Telco Rewrite on Fast -- and Slow -- Track


Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the new Commerce Committee chairman, is starting the new Congress by getting under the skin of his counterpart in the House, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

Steven’s one-upmanship may set at a testy relationship between the chairmen, who could oversee a massive overhaul of telecommunications law.

Stevens is maddening the more impatient Barton by starting off the session’s biggest legislation battle at a snail’s pace.

Barton is eager to get moving on a massive rewrite of the country’s telecom laws, which include not only attempts to change media regulations but also comprehensive retooling of telephone rules.

Barton has already promised to hold hearings on proposals to speed the DTV transition, which could get tacked on to the telecom revisions, before the end of January. But unless the Senate is equally committed to moving, Barton’s efforts will mostly be for show.

Stevens is determined to move deliberately and has resisted Barton’s call to move quickly. As of last week, Stevens hadn’t even named a telecom aide to oversee the legislation.

Why is the Alaska Republican moving so slow? Fresh from a stint running the Appropriations Committee, where he kept tight control over pork barrel spending and the political loyalty he could demand by doling it out, Stevens is determined to keep similarly close control over the legislation and the political favors he can negotiate by keeping people guessing his intentions.

To ensure his grip on power, Stevens has announced he wants to eliminate the Telecommunications Subcommittee—which former Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain had been angling to run--and keep all media and telecom oversight under his own purview.