TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Net Neutrality Puts Time Crunch on Telecom Agenda in Congress

Net Neutrality Puts Time Crunch on Telecom Agenda in Congress

K.C. Jones (
Sun, 4 Jun 2006 16:27:00 -0500

Providers have about 20 days to push for changes to cable franchising
rules and universal service fees, until about end of June.

By K.C. Jones,

Time is running out for Congress to pass several telecommunications
rule changes this year because the changes are tied to another
contentious issue: network neutrality.

Since net neutrality is holding the telecommunications agenda hostage,
the idea of compromise legislation is catching on.

"As sand runs out of the hour glass, compromises are reached," said
Thaddeus Strom, vice president of congressional relations for Parry,
Romani, DeConcini & Symms.

Panelists at Cowen and Company's Technology Conference in New York
City said Friday that providers have about 20 days to push for changes
to cable franchising rules and universal service fees.

"It's a question of finding floor time," said Strom, whose powerful
lobbying firm represents Verizon.

And, there are several obstacles to overcome.

Committee chairs are vying for jurisdictional control over net
neutrality also called Internet neutrality. Members are drafting and
revising several bills to guarantee equal access to networks or to
protect providers' ability to charge more for better access and
improved networks.

As a challenging election season approaches, lobbyists are applying
pressure from both sides. If Congress cannot get one version to the
floor, and soon, members are likely to turn their attention away from
telecommunications issues during recesses, budgeting and campaigns.

Then there is the threat of returning to a more net neutrality-friendly
congress -- one controlled by Democrats in one house or both.
Political strategists believe, and telecommunications lobbyists
acknowledge, that voters could sweep out Republican incumbents over
national issues.

"There's certainly speculation about a sea-change in the control,"
Strom said.

While several Republicans favor legislation aimed at preserving
neutrality, Democrats are not jumping to the aid of telecommunications

That means it could be a better strategy for telecommunications
providers to make some concessions on net neutrality now, in a more
certain environment.

"It will probably be more than they want because it's the only way to
get legislation passed this year," said Chris McKee, vice president
and assistant general counsel of Covad Communications Group, a
broadband voice and data communications provider.

Strom said compromise legislation, which could be introduced next
week, would likely include promises not to block, degrade or modify
network access. The House Rules Committee is likely to decide next
week whether to send an existing net neutrality bill to the floor.

Mike Wendy, media relations manager for the Computing Industry
Association, said that net neutrality bills could impose "onerous
telephone-like, or more complicated, regulation," on caching speeds,
access requirements, rate regulations and application regulation.

He said regulation should not be a default, but a last resort after
the free market, technology and federal watchdogs fail to protect

"We just haven't been there thus far," he said during an interview

He said he hopes compromise legislation does not impose restrictions
on growth because the net has not relied on legislation to develop.

Copyright 2006 CMP Media LLC

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