FCC Chairman Michael Powell late last Friday officially encouraged Congress to raise to $10 million from $1.2 million fines the FCC can levy on incumbent phone companies for violating competition provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
"In my view, the difficulties currently facing the CLEC industry stem from a variety of conditions. And in some cases, CLECs may have been stymied by practices of incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) that appear designed to slow the development of local competition," Powell said in a letter to members of the House and Senate Appropriations and Commerce Committees. Powell's letter follows up testimony he gave before the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee at the end of March, in which he told members that the FCC needed more enforcement authority to advance competition in the telecommunications industry.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) attached an amendment meant to help accomplish that feat to a bill sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) that is moving through the House. The so-called Tauzin-Dingell bill, which has stirred much controversy on Capitol Hill, would allow the phone companies to send high-speed data across long distances before they open their local markets to competition.
Stearns' amendment would increase to $1 million from $100,000 and to $10 million from $1 million the total penalties phone companies would pay if they did not open their high-speed data networks to competitors or if they used those networks to offer voice services before the FCC had approved their entrance into long distance.
- Paige Albiniak