Another Bill To Join Telecom Reform Parade

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is the latest lawmaker to toss a telecom reform bill into the legislative hopper, urging Congress to “wake up” to 21st Century technology.

DeMint’s Digital Age Communications Act aims to create a regulatory system that is market oriented and treats all phone systems — Internet, landline, cable or wireless — the same.

Noting that the current regulatory regime originated in the day of rotary telephones, DeMint said in a statement, “We can no longer force a modern, dynamic industry to operate on archaic rules that destroy job creation, limit consumer choice and needlessly raise prices.”

He added, “Today, cable, phone, and wireless offer consumers similar services, but each one is bound by a different set of confusing and burdensome regulations.”

DeMint said he wants the communications industry to be regulated “like any other business” by protecting consumers and ensuring businesses do not engage in unfair practices.

The bill would also reform the Universal Service Fund (USF) to make all service providers contribute equally, including Voice over IP services. DeMint would also cap the USF.

The legislation would also phase out cable television franchises over four years, opening the market for delivery of video services.

Randy May, a senior fellow and director of Communications Policy Studies at the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), said DeMint’s bill “wisely replaces an existing regime that ties regulation to outdated and ever-evolving techno-functional constructs with a forward-looking one that grounds the need for any regulatory intervention in an assessment of marketplace realities.”

According to the PFF, DeMint’s bill “presumes” that economic regulation of the telecom markets is unnecessary unless there is the threat of market abuse that poses a risk to consumer welfare.

May said under DeMint’s proposal the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be focused on “specific complaints and not so much on overly broad rulemaking proceedings.”

DeMint’s bill would require the FCC to apply an “unfair competition” standard in deciding whether regulatory intervention is necessary.

“This an approach that at its core regulates only when there is a demonstrated need,” May said.

DeMint’s bill will be competition with legislation introduced by Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in July.

Under their legislation, broadband services, regardless of technology platform, are largely freed from federal and state regulation at both the wholesale and retail levels. The bill further states that consumers may not be denied access to any legal content provided over the facilities used for broadband communications, including port blocking.

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