Senate’s Turn on Broadband Deregulation

U.S. Senators John Breaux (D.-La.) and Don Nickles (R.-Okla.) introduced legislation Tuesday afternoon that would “ensure regulatory parity” among all providers of high-speed Internet access and services. Called the “Broadband Regulatory Parity Act of 2002,” the bill would subject providers of broadband services and broadband access services to the same regulatory requirements as all other players in the broadband market.

Currently, four competing technologies can provide consumers with high-speed Internet access: cable modem, digital subscriber lines (DSL), fixed wireless and satellite. Only DSL, provided by incumbent telephone companies, is highly regulated and must satisfy federal and state requirements. The Breaux-Nickles legislation seeks to subject the telephone companies providing DSL services with the same regulatory requirements as cable and satellite companies.

The legislation identifies the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the appropriate authority to determine which regulatory requirements — if any — should be retained and which should be eliminated. It requires the FCC to issue regulations within 120 days of the bill’s enactment.

According to Breaux’s office, the legislation preserves consumer choice of Internet service providers (ISP’s) when using DSL provided by telephone companies by requiring them to provide all ISP’s with access to their networks. In addition, the legislation retains existing requirements that incumbent telephone companies provide competitors with access to their voice networks.

“To ensure and encourage the widespread deployment of broadband networks in this country, Congress must level the regulatory playing field in the broadband market,” said Breaux, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “The rapid deployment of broadband technology is vital to our national interest, and will jump start investment and stimulate job creation in the important telecommunications industry, which lost more than 300,000 jobs in the last year alone.”

Unlike the controversial Tauzin-Dingell legislation passed in the House earlier this year, the Breaux-Nickles bill does not seek to deregulate long-distance voice services, or allow local-phone companies to shut out rivals from their existing networks.

“High-speed connections to the Internet can provide a lifeline to small businesses, schools and hospitals, and can help communities prosper and grow in the Information Age,” Nickles said. “Unfortunately, different rules for competing high-speed Internet companies are stifling competition. This bill aims to make regulations more simple and more fair, insisting that all broadband service providers play by the same rules.”

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