TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Senator Unveils Bill to Aid SBC, Other Telcos

Senator Unveils Bill to Aid SBC, Other Telcos

Reuters News Wire (
Thu, 28 Jul 2005 14:27:10 -0500

Legislation aiding telephone companies in their efforts to provide
video and other high-speed data services was proposed on Wednesday by
Sen. John Ensign, who claimed his goal is to boost competition.

Ensign, a Nevada Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce
subcommittee on technology, innovation and competitiveness, called his
72-page bill a starting point as Congress considers overhauling the
1996 Telecommunications Act, which aimed to promote competition in
voice services.

"Changes in technology necessitate that we update these rules if
America is going to be competitive in the face of global competition,"
he told reporters.

Cable and telephone companies are battling to expand their profits by
signing up as many customers as possible for a suite of communications
and entertainment services but the Bells have complained they are at a

Ensign pointed out that the United States has slipped to as low as
16th in the rankings for deploying high-speed Internet service, called
broadband. He also said consumers are hungry for more choice in
communications and entertainment.

Under the bill, companies that want to offer video services would no
longer have to get permission from local or state officials, a boon to
companies like Verizon Communications and SBC Communications Inc.
which are rolling out video.

The measure would also eliminate in 2011 requirements that the four
big local telephone companies, known as the Baby Bells and including
Verizon and SBC, resell their phone service to other competitors at
regulated rates or make parts of their existing copper networks
available to competitors.

The Bells argue they must abide by laws for traditional phone service,
slowing the deployment of broadband services, and that they could be
required to obtain permission from thousands of local authorities to
offer video.

"This will provide much needed clarity as SBC invests in
next-generation broadband services," said Tim McKone, senior vice
president for federal relations at SBC, the No. 2 U.S. telephone

Ensign said he would now begin seeking the support of other lawmakers
for his measure, but gave no timetable for moving the legislation
forward. Analysts have said the chances of passing a bill this year
were slim.

However, not all were quick to embrace the bill. Sen. John Kerry, a
senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee from Massachusetts,
said that while he had not read the entire bill, he had some concerns.

"It does conflict with a few of the views I espouse," he told
reporters, without elaborating.

Ensign's measure would prevent companies from limiting where consumers
surf on the Internet as well as ensure Internet phone service cannot
be blocked by broadband providers.

Local and state authorities would still be able to collect up to 5
percent of gross revenue from pay television services and local
governments could continue managing rights of ways.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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