Congress Makes Push to Open Cable Networks

In the spirit of the Independence Day, a congressional duo this week
introduced the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999. If passed, the bill
would open cable network access to regional Bell operating companies, and
eventually, Internet services providers.

Representatives William J.
Tauzin,
, a Louisiana Republican, and John D.
Dingell,
, a Michigan Democrat, drafted the legislation to encourage all companies to
develop and deliver broadband services by deregulating both high-speed data
and Internet access services.

Tauzin, chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications,
Trade and Consumer Protection, and Dingell, the Commerce Committee’s
ranking member, are looking to create competition among cable and wireline
companies allowing both to deliver broadband services.

The bill emancipates RBOCs by providing for the ability to compete
nationwide with cable networks operators. Under the bill, Internet service
providers that collocate within a RBOC’s high-speed network could have
access to at least one broadband service, depending on the companies’
interconnection agreement.

The bill is great news for consumers demanding high-speed Internet access
because they are guaranteed a choice among providers.

However, it’s not a definitive victory for RBOCs because the legislation
prohibits the Bells from providing voice-based long distance services
delivered over the packet-switched networks until the Bell company is
authorized by the Federal Communications
Commission
to do so. No RBOC has made it past the FCC’s 14-point
checklist to date.

Congressman Dingell said the bill creates a winning environment for
consumers and service providers because no single company can create a
monopoly for broadband services if the bill is made into law.

“Internet service will not become a de facto monopoly for any one
provider,” Dingell said. “Our bill protects consumers against the
increasing concentration of market power in the Internet backbone business.”

Open access proponents were present to commend representatives Tauzin and
Dingell for introducing the legislation.

David J. Markey, BellSouth’s vice
president of governmental affairs, said the company heartily supports the
legislation.

“This bill would give consumers a meaningful choice of high-speed Internet
access providers by finally putting the local telephone industry on an
equal footing with the nation’s cable giants, many of which will soon be
controlled by AT&T.”

Although AT&T is expected to release a statement later Friday, the company
has not spoken out about the legislation to date. The telecommunications
giant has been fighting vehemently against open access to their Tele-Communications Inc. franchises in
Oregon, Washington and California.

Milo Medin, [email protected] founder and chief technical officer, has been an
outspoken critic of any legislative efforts to open cable network access.
Medin contends that “forced” access to cable networks will only work to
hinder cable access speed and performance.

“Forced access to cable networks will slow deployment of
broadband Internet services to a halt,” Medin said.

Bill Shute, SBC Communications, Inc.
executive director of federal relations disagrees. He said supporting
competition is the surest way to provide more choices and lower prices to
consumers.

“Tauzin-Dingell bill’s guiding principle is that, because of
the robust competition to offer Internet access, regulators must stop
impeding the provision of those services by certain providers. We applaud
this approach,” Shute said.

He added the bill equalizes the opportunity to provide broadband
services by eliminating regulatory barriers to unbridled competition in the
telecommunications market.

Although the debate on the bill is just starting RBOCs will be the first to
share in the economic opportunities of providing broadband services with
cable companies should the bill become law.

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