Senate Sets Ambitious Tech Schedule

Signaling its intent to focus on Internet and telecom issues next year, the
U.S. Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold 14 hearings on a wide variety
of technology topics between January and March.

The hearings begin with decency and Internet pornography on Jan. 19 and end
with Voice over IP on March 14.

Other topics include video franchising, Internet neutrality, competition and
convergence, wireless issues and spectrum reform, rural telecom, broadcast
flag and state, local and municipal issues.

The hearings are likely to serve as a showcase for what the Commerce
Committee plans to introduce as telecom reform in 2006, including Sen. John
Ensign’s Broadband Consumer Choice Act of 2005, which calls for the
elimination of the requirement that video service providers obtain a cable
franchise agreement in order to provide video service.

The legislation also sets federal consumer protection standards for quality
carrier service and assures consumer access to Internet-based phone service.

“This bill will create jobs, stimulate the economy and increase consumer
choice,” Ensign said in July when he introduced the bill.

The series of hearings mark an abrupt reversal of Commerce Committee
Chairman Ted Stevens’ (R-AK) original plans to tackle telecom reform. When
the 109th Congress began in January, Stevens said the committee would hold
few public hearings, instead preferring to hold closed sessions.

Stevens even scheduled a series of secret meetings known as “listening
sessions.” According to Stevens, the closed and secret sessions would lead
to quick passage of Internet-related bills.

Instead, the Commerce Committee has little to show for its technology
efforts in the first session of the 109th Congress, passing spyware and ID
theft legislation and approving a bill to force broadcasters out of their
analog spectrum by 2009. The vacated spectrum will be auctioned off to
wireless broadband providers.

None of the bills have become law because of differences with the U.S. House
of Representatives.

Both the Senate and the House resume meeting next week after a two-week
Thanksgiving holiday.

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