The cable industry this week side-stepped a fight over a potential amendment
that would have required cable operators to open their broadband networks to
House leadership on Thursday postponed a vote on legislation that would have
deregulated the regional Bell phone companies so they could offer broadband
services over long distances.
The vote was highly controversial because the bill, known as Tauzin-Dingell
after its sponsors, would free the Bells from regulation that requires them to
share their lines and equipment with competitors.
Opponents of the bill say without such requirements, competitive carriers
will go out of business.
The chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), has been waging a
legislative fight all week with congressional opponents who want to add
amendments that would have required the Bells to allow their competitors to
share their new high-speed networks.
To keep the bill free from amendments, Tauzin threatened to introduce one
that would also require cable operators to share their networks with
competitors. Tauzin assumed that even the threat of such an amendment would
bring the cable industry out in force, and shut down a vote on an amended bill.
That way, Tauzin could get House leadership to agree to a vote on the bill as
Ultimately, House members and leadership decided the bill-with or without
amendments-was too controversial to vote on while Congress is finishing its
remaining work and trying to leave town by the end of next week.
'This is a delay not a defeat,' said Ken Johnson, Tauzin's spokesman. 'We
have a firm commitment for moving the bill to the House floor, we have the votes
to pass it and we have the champagne ordered.'
Momentum for a vote had been gathering, with proponents expecting a vote as
early as Friday. Now, it is put off at least until February and likely March,
according to the office of House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas).
Tauzin's move nearly forced cable to go on a full offensive against the bill,
sources say, before the bill finally died for the year.
Still, Tauzin stands firm that all markets should be regulated equally.
'Billy's position is simple,' Johnson said. 'We should have a level playing
field for all competitors. Either deregulate the phone companies or reregulate
cable. That's the choice.'