Senate Commerce Sticking With Big Bill


Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens still plans to stick with a comprehensive approach to a Senate telecommunications reform bill, despite rumblings that too many cooks could spoil the broth.

Unlike the House bill, which is pretty much confined to revising the video franchising system to make it easier for telcos and others to compete with cable and satellite, the Senate version goes beyond a slightly less national take on video franchise reform to colllecting more money from industry for the rollout of communications services to rural areas (Stevens represents Alaska), permits municipal broadband networks to compete with commercial ones, allows unlicensed wireless devices to operate in the broadcast band, lets cable convert a DTV signal to analog after the broadcasters have to convert to DTV, and more.

Top Verizon executive Tom Tauke pointed out Tuesday that time was running out in this session to pass telecom reform and that the best chance was a bill reduced to only franchise reform and funding rural rollouts (via the Universal Service Fund).

But a Senate Commerce staffer said the Senator remained committed to a wide ranging bill that deals with some of the issues that had to be stripped from a DTV hard date-bill late last year to square with parliamentary rules.

"Our position has been pretty consistent," said Commerce Committee Press Secretary Aaron Saunders, "which is a comprehensive bill" that addresses a range of issues, not just a couple.

The Senator and his telecom staffers are said still to be confident that even a wide-ranging bill, if it can make it to conference committee (where the differences between bills that have passed the House and Senate, respectively, are reconciled) can make it out of conference and eventually to the president's desk.

In fact, part of the strategy is to include various items backed by other Senators to gain their support for the entire bill. For instance, the municipal broadband issue is backed by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, while Senator George Allen, along with Stevens, supports allowing unlicensed devices to use the broadcast band.