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Regulation

New Telecom Bill Draws Raves

The first draft of a sweeping overhaul of the Telecom Act was released Thursday, and Washington insiders and industry stakeholders are already praising the bill as bringing much needed reform to the United States telecom industry.

The Energy and Commerce Committee staff calls the creation of the draft legislation a “discussion draft,” and has invited private and public stakeholders to file comments (see New Bill Boosts Telecom ).

One central technology aspect of the bill is the categorization of all IP-based services as “broadband Internet transmission services (BITS),” which in effect places such things as cable, DSL, satellite, and wireless broadband services on a common regulatory footing.

"This is a serious bill," says Legg Mason Inc. analyst Blair Levin. Levin was chief of staff to former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Reed Hundt (see FCC Zaps Broadband Carriage Regs).

Levin believes the new bill, in contrast to several similar ones introduced over the summer, is centrist enough to spark a serious debate that may result in the eventual passage.

“It attempts to look ahead at the political compromises that would be necessary to get a big bill like this through -- politically in terms of Republicans and Democrats but more importantly in terms of different interests in the sector," Levin says.

The telephone companies and cable companies are reacting with praise and guarded optimism for the bill, while also registering concern about the parts they don’t like.

“This is looking more like a compromise piece of legislation,” says Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition president and former FCC staffer Staci Pies. “The bill has bits and pieces of good and bad for just about everyone involved.”

While the legislation will no doubt be greatly modified during the next few months, the following highlights characterize the legislation now.

  • It includes language on “network neutrality,” in which broadband providers are restricted from blocking or degrading subscriber access to competing content streams

  • It authorizes the FCC to determine that VOIP can be required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund

  • It creates a national franchise for broadband video providers, but applies many of the current requirements of cable video providers (see Picture Fuzzy for Video Franchise Bills and SBC Sees IPTV Interference)

  • It allows municipalities to develop and deploy BITS, VOIP, and broadband video services. However, municipalities can't provide preferential treatment for these services and must comply with all regulations governing private-sector providers

  • It ensures that VOIP subscribers have access to 911 services (see FCC Extends 911 Deadline)
The full 77-page text of the bill is available here.

“There’s something to like and something to dislike, which strikes you as somewhat similar to the 1996 Act,” Pies says. For instance, VOIP service is handled with a light regulatory touch, but the bill defers to the FCC to decide how much VOIP services should contribute to the Universal Service Fund.

VON Coalition executive director Jim Kohlenberger says the VOIP community’s initial concern is that the E911 language in the bill does not place emergency services requirements on non-PSTN connected VOIP services. “We are concerned that the bill might cast a net that will catch the wrong fish,” Kohlenberger says.

"We need a fresh new approach that will encourage Internet providers to expand and improve broadband networks, spur growth in the technology sector, and develop cutting-edge services for consumers,” said committee chair Joe Barton (R-Texas) in a statement Thursday.

Legg Mason's Levin, however, doesn’t believe the measure likely to pass this year. “You could see it getting through one house, but I don’t see a law passing and going to the president,” he says.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

fgoldstein 12/5/2012 | 3:01:18 AM
re: New Telecom Bill Draws Raves The Barton-Dingell draft is awful. Given Dingell's record (remember Dingell-Tauzin?), it's likely that this is intentional, but some could also be ascribed to staff sloppiness. It only looks good compared to, say, the Ensign bill (everything the ILECs want and a pony, too!).

The definitions are laughable. "BITS" is not about Broadband; since it includes all packet-switched transport, even X.25 over a 1200 bps line probably qualifies. It's not about Internet, since non-Internet data services are included. It's not about transmission, since non-facilities-based ISPs are apparently included. Why, it's the Holy Roman Empire of telecom bills!

Nor is it deregulatory. As the Bell shills at Newt's PFF have noted, it is highly regulatory, requiring Registration (and state approval, and no operation ahead of that) of both ISPs and VoIP operators. So it moves from the current system of open entry (anybody can be an ISP, and provide Information over Common Carriage) into a licensed system. Of course ISPhood is not made easy, since its structure basically assumes that VIMBOs (Vertically Integrated Monopoly Broadband Operators) will be the major ISPs.

Registered VoIP operators given some presumptive, but not absolute, rights of parasitism on BITS networks. But again it adds a registration requirement to what is now an open-entry industry. And while it definitely includes all PSTN-interconnected VoIPos, it allows the FCC to also require registration of non-interconneted ones like Skype.

On the other hand, the Bill does not follow in the Ensign model and simply revoke the existence of CLECs and all unbundling. (The FCC may do that on its own, given recent events, but that isn't enshrined in law.) Unlike Ensign's removal of the PSTN interconnection requirement, this House draft expands it to ISPs. Once an ISP is Registered as a BITS Provider, it becomes subject to mandatory interconnection, which could throw the existing Peering and upstream-provider system into disarray.

Its other content may be regulated too. However, Thierer of PFF exaggerates that it bans all Internet and video porn; it does have a prohibition on knowing provision of "obscene or indecent" material to minors, though.

The basic model of the law is totally wrong, following the beads on a string view of networking that has been obsolete since at least the 1970s: A wire is what it carries. Layers are not included. There is no mention of common carriage, or of "payload". The wire owner, or even the small BITS Provider (ISP) who might be able to lease some wire or even get a BITS license needed to put up an unlicensed radio (yep, you heard me), controls the content, period. That's it. No room for common carriage, user payload protection, or anything else along those lines.

There's nothing wrong with the Telecom Act that couldn't be fixed with a little text clarification. Both of these proposed rewrites are harmful. Barton-Dingell is, I suppose, somewhat less harmful than Ensign, but then we're just comparing the pneumonic and bubonic plagues.
Mark Sullivan 12/5/2012 | 3:01:13 AM
re: New Telecom Bill Draws Raves fgoldstein -- Very much enjoyed your take on the new legislation. we will do a follow-up on this after the bill gets marked up in committee. Please shoot me an email at [email protected] if you would like to weigh in beforehand. Thanx, Mark
OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:01:13 AM
re: New Telecom Bill Draws Raves fgoldstein,
Could you post links to the other telcom Bills
Please.

OldPOTS

fgoldstein 12/5/2012 | 3:01:11 AM
re: New Telecom Bill Draws Raves > Could you post links to the other telcom Bills

Here's a short link to Ensign's bill (S.1504) on the web site of Bell public relations firm USIIA:

http://www.usiia.org/legis/BBI...

This long link is the official one:

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.go...
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