Just when you thought the hooplah about the mysterious "Tauzin-Dingell" bill
was over, Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Don Nickles (R-Okla.) introduced
legislation in the Senate Tuesday that is bringing it all back.
Called the "Broadband Regulatory Parity Act of 2002," the bill would require
the Federal Communications Commission to bring regulations that govern broadband
services to parity within 120 days of passing the bill.
Asked whether he would be able to accomplish that task, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael
Powell said laughingly, "I don't know. If I had to, I might negotiate
for more time."
Breaux and Nickles agree with Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell
(D-Mich.) that incumbent phone companies should be able to offer broadband
services in a deregulatory regime so that they can compete fairly with cable,
which controls nearly 70 percent of the broadband market.
The House has passed Tauzin's and Dingell's deregulatory bill, but the Senate
hasn't been nearly as enthusiastic about the idea. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)
has longs been an advocate of passing a bill to deregulate the Bells, but his
legislation hasn't gotten much traction. Brownback -- along with Sens. Max Cleland
(D-Ga.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) -- is a cosponsor
of the measure.
With the support of Breaux and Nickles, both members of the Senate
leadership, the bill may be able to get a little further. At least that is the
hope of the phone companies, which flooded faxes and electronic-mail accounts with
supportive press releases Tuesday.
"Verizon vigorously supports the bipartisan bill introduced today by John
Breaux and Don Nickles," said Tom Tauke, senior vice president for public policy
and external affairs at Verizon Communications.
"By establishing a technology-neutral national broadband policy, the
Breaux-Nickles bill furthers the pro-competition goals Congress set forth in the
'96 Telecommunications Act and makes them applicable to the Internet," said
Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the U.S. Telecom Association.
As expected, long-distance companies and competitive local-exchange carriers
came out against the bill.
"Sen. Breaux's 'parity' bill has the right title, but it is wrong on the
substance. The bill would eliminate the Bell companies' unbundling obligations
for broadband, data and voice because all of these services are carried on the same
network. As a result, this bill would reduce consumer choice and create a
deregulated monopoly or duopoly over all local telecom services," said John
Windhausen, president of the Association of Local Telecommunications
Meanwhile, the cable industry, represented by the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association, took a noncommittal approach: "The NCTA believes
that market-based competition is the best way to ensure that broadband services
are made available to all Americans. We appreciate and share Sen. Breaux's
view that increased regulation of cable-provided Internet services is not the
way to advance broadband deployment," said spokesman Marc Smith. "The NCTA has not
taken a position on the Breaux bill nor had the opportunity yet to review it
with our members."
The NCTA has maintained a policy of uninvolvement all through the often-heated
debate over broadband deregulation on Capitol Hill.
Brownback and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) told a Washington
conference Tuesday that they expected some form of broadband legislation to pass this