Supporters of controversial telecom legislation take over Comnet panel, feeling confident of a victory

January 31, 2002

3 Min Read
Tauzin-Dingell Clan Holds Pep Rally

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the vote on the controversial Tauzin-Dingell bill draws closer, supporters are feeling confident that it will pass the U.S. House of Representatives and move on to the Senate.

A panel discussion here at the Comnet trade show on Wednesday turned into a gathering for Tauzin-Dingell supporters. Andrew W. Levin, counsel for the Committee on Commerce in the House, said he was confident that the bill would pass both the House and the Senate.

If the law passes, it will allow Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) to offer broadband Internet services over long-distance lines without opening up their local phone service monopolies to outside competition. The bill, which originated in the House, was postponed at the end of last year (see Last Mile Political Battle Heats Up).

But despite claims of victory by Tauzin-Dingell supporters, the opposition is still strong and vocal. Even if the bill passes the House, Senator Fritz Hollings, a democrat from South Carolina, will likely oppose it. He has been working on his own legislation to combat Tauzin-Dingell, which is widely supported by large long-distance companies like AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T).

"They were confident a year ago and it still hasn't passed," said Russell Frisby, president of the Competitive Telecommunications Association. Frisby, whose group opposes Tauzin-Dingell, was not at the Comnet conference. "I think their confidence is at worst misplaced, and at best wishful thinking. Senator Hollings has said in the past that Tauzin-Dingell is dead on arrival in the Senate. I don't think anything has changed on that."

With no representatives from Senator Hollings's office present on the panel, however, the Tauzin-Dingellers took the opportunity to downplay the opposition.

“Hollings is fighting a holy war that has been going on between AT&T and the RBOCs since 1984 during the divestiture,” said Levin. “I think that if we get the kind of support we expect in the House, it will have enough momentum to make it through the Senate, too.”

Levin went on to say that he hopes most of the issues and concerns surrounding the bill are dealt with on the House floor during the debate.

“There is a major misconception out there that Tauzin-Dingell will somehow impede local competition,” said Levin. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. It does nothing to roll back what is currently in place. Zero.”

Although the White House hasn’t come out in full support of Tauzin-Dingell, a national broadband policy is being drafted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Communications and Information division.

Precisely when the administration’s broadband initiative will be made public is still not known. Nancy J. Victory, Assistant Secretary for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, says that despite what has been reported, the new initiative will not be released on March 18.

“The NTI has been looking and gathering information about what is an appropriate role for the government for the past six months,” she said. “But I can’t give a specific date of when we will release our initiative. It may be earlier or it may be later. Stay tuned.”

There had also been speculation that supporters of Tauzin-Dingell were working with the Federal Communications Commission, so that the Commission would come up with solutions making legislation unnecessary. But Kevin J. Martin, commissioner with the FCC, who was on the panel today, said the FCC hasn’t interceded in any way. He says that whatever happens to the bill is up to Congress and that the commission is working on what it can -- within the confines of the current Telecom Act -- to spur competition.

Whatever happens, RBOCs say they will continue to pursue DSL deployment. During a press conference following his keynote address yesterday, Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) said that with or without Tauzin-Dingell, his company still plans to move forward with its DSL buildout (see Verizon CEO: Blame the Government).

“The way the industry is evolving,” he said, “we’ll be facing competition from alternative technologies rather than from competitors wholesaling our services, anyway.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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