Roberts: Keep Phone Lines Open

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Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts told the Senate Commerce Committee the government should encourage his competitors if it wants to help speed broadband's rollout, and not impose government mandates on his industry.

Facilities-based competition, with satellites and power companies competing to deploy broadband services, is the way to go, he said. The government's message to those competitors should be "Don't just stand there, build something," he told Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain and the Senate panel. "We have." The committee was holding a hearing Wednesday on the state of telecommunications competition and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is being rewritten.

Roberts said that the 1996 act, which deregulated cable rates, helped push capital expenditures from $4.8 billion per year before the act passed to $13.4 billion afterward.

Roberts said the investment in new plant will pay off for consumers as cable systems roll out Internet-based telephone service. Broadband voice service "will make cable a ubiquitous telephone competitor," he told the Senate Commerce Committee.

Roberts endorses legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., that would keep Internet telephone providers largely unregulated. He declined to join McCain in characterizing the bill as "indecipherable." A House bill version is backed by Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss.

Roberts pleaded with lawmakers to pass the legislation quickly rather than tying up passage indefinitely by packaging it into a sweeping rewrite of the Telecommunications Act that is expected to take a year or more. "We need this sooner rather than later," Roberts said.

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