Reconsidering long-distance broadband

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With Congress presumedly sticking around long past Thanksgiving, legislation that would allow incumbent phone companies to offer long-distance broadband services has come back to life.

Sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell
(D-Mich.), the bill is strongly supported by the incumbent phone companies but
equally opposed by long-distance companies and by competitive local phone
companies.

Last week, an aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said Hastert expected to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote before Congress adjourned.

Backing that statement, Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson
says the bill has a 95% chance of going to the floor if Congress stays in
session through the first week of December as expected.

Johnson says the bill has enough votes to pass.

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), who vigorously opposes the bill, admitted at a press conference Wednesday he thought the bill could pass the House.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) strongly opposes the bill, giving the opposition reason to feel somewhat safe the measure will not pass.

However, "the Senate is not as predictable as the House," Cannon said. "We want to kill this snake in its hole."

The opposition was shored up by a letter to Hastert from
106 telecommunications CEOs who do not want the bill to move.

The CEOs say the passage of the bill would destroy the competitive local phone business, eliminating at least 77,000 jobs.

"[The bill] could create the worst possible scenario - four megacompanies each possessing an unregulated monopoly over local telephone services and Internet access," the CEOs wrote.

The cable industry is not opposing the bill, although AT&T Corp. is fighting hard to kill it. - Paige Albiniak

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