Rep. Tauzin to Bring Broadband Deployment Act Back to Table

Washington insiders say that the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999,
which was first introduced to Congress on July 1, 1999 by Rep. Billy Tauzin
(R-LA), is about to make a repeat appearance on Capitol Hill.

Ken Johnson, Congressman Tauzin’s Spokesperson, said this time around the
bill would pass the House.

“The longer we wait, the more entrenched the cable monopolies will become,”
Johnson said. “I am confident that the bill will pass the House and make it
to the Senate floor, even though the markup language may be changed along
the way. We intend to reintroduce the original 1999 bill within the next
week or two.”

Body language

The would-be law amends the Communications Act of 1934 to define “high speed
data service” as a service capable of transmitting electronic information at
a rate generally not less than 384 kilobits per second be it uploads or
down.

Finer points of the bill’s markup language include:

  • It prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and each state,
    except as expressly provided in the Act, from regulating the rates, charges,
    terms or conditions for, or entry into the provision of, any high speed data
    service or Internet access service, or to regulate the facilities used in
    the provision of such service.

  • It prohibits the FCC from requiring an incumbent local exchange carrier
    to:

    1. provide unbundled access to any network elements used in the provision
      of any high speed data service, other than those elements described in FCC
      regulations; or

    2. offer for resale at wholesale rates any high-speed data service.
  • It states that nothing in the act shall:
    1. limit or affect the authority of any state to regulate voice telephone
      exchange services

    2. affect the ability of the FCC to retain or modify the exemption from
      interstate access charges for enhanced service providers; or

    3. prohibit the FCC from modifying the regulation concerning the number of
      networks subject to its unbundling requirement.
  • It requires each incumbent local exchange carrier to provide:
    1. Internet users with the ability to subscribe to and have access to any
      Internet service provider that interconnects with such carrier’s high-speed
      data service;

    2. any Internet service provider with the right to acquire necessary
      facilities and services to facilitate such interconnection; and

    3. any Internet service provider with the ability to collocate equipment in
      order to achieve such interconnection.
  • It includes high-speed data service or Internet access service within
    the definition of “incidental interLATA services”
    permitted for a Bell operating company (BOC).

  • It states that, until the date a BOC is authorized to offer interLATA
    services originating in an in-region State, such BOC offering any high speed
    data service or Internet access service may not, in such State, bill or
    collect for interLATA voice telecommunications service obtained by means of
    such high speed data or Internet access service provided by such
    company.

Fight club

However, a number of lobbyists, consumer advocacy groups and Internet
associations are displeased by the bill.

One such group is lead by Bruce Kushnick, executive director of New Networks
Institute. The investigative telecom research entity was behind a
comprehensive research project that lead to initiating a series of Class
Action suits against Regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) in several
states, and has filed volumes of comments with the FCC and other government
agencies representing consumer interests in telecom policy matters.

Kushnick says Rep. Tauzin has a direct conflict-of-interest when it comes to
telecom issues and that the Louisiana-born politician should disqualify
himself from creating or voting on critical legislation that directly
impacts the industry.

“Rep. Billy Tauzin should be recused from regulating telecommunications
because of his obvious conflicts of interests with the Bell companies,
including BellSouth — as well as Verizon, SBC and Qwest,” Kushnick said.
“As chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee, he is in a position to
control the agenda for America’s telecommunications. Tauzin’s relationships
with the Bells have been documented by numerous sources.”

Kushnick contends that when private interests conflict with official
responsibilities, a person in a position of trust should step aside. NNI
published a dubious litany of Rep. Tauzin’s wrongdoings, some of which
include:

  • Rep. Tauzin’s current counsel to the Commerce Committee worked for Bell
    clients

  • Rep. Tauzin’s son, Billy Tauzin III, is a state lobbyist for BellSouth
    in Louisiana

  • Many of Rep. Tauzin’s staffers have come to him from Bell/telecom
    lobbying jobs

  • Rep. Tauzin goes on trips with Bell executives.

War on the horizon?

Johnson, the Congressman’s spokesman, said the NNI allegations are a cheap,
personal attack against Tauzin.

“They’re making ludicrous accusations,” Johnson said. “They’re just an
organization backed by phone money trying to whip-up hysteria about the
legislation. Yes, Billy’s son is a lobbyist for Bell South, but he is a
state lobbyist and has never operated at a federal level.”

Johnson added that the rest of the allegations are simply ridiculous and
that time is of the essence for facilitating the deployment of broadband
services nationwide.

“The longer we wait, the more entrenched the cable monopolies will become,”
Johnson said. “Cable companies will do anything they can to delay the game
and get to market first.”

Johnson said that NNI, CLECs and cable lobbyists have initiated an
unjustified attack against Rep. Tauzin and that the endless recriminations
only increase the Congressman’s resolve to press the legislation through to
the Senate.

“This unwarranted attack only makes us more resolved to accomplish our
goals,” Johnson said. “If they want a war — they got it.”

Conventional wisdom

But industry insiders believe that the legislation violates Section 271 of
the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires Regional Bell Operating
Companies (RBOCs) to comply with a 14-point “competition” checklist before
they can provide in-region inter-LATA phone services.

Johnson said that all the bill does is “allow RBOCs to offer high-speed
Internet access across inter-LATA lines. The phone companies still have to
comply with Article 271.”


Pat Fusco is the managing editor of ISP-Planet.

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