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Will CLECs get Justice?

If the Tauzin-Dingell bill survives, ILECs may bypass the FCC, but not the DOJ. 6/15 ReleVents hed: Will CLECs get Justice? Dek: If the Tauzin-Dingell bill survives, ILECs may bypass the FCC, but not the DOJ. By James Mathewson

The loudest and longest debates on Capitol Hill this year have had nothing to do with tax cuts, strategic defense, or the midstream Senate power shift. The most heated debates have taken place in various House committees over H.R. 1542, aka the Broadband Deregulation or Tauzin-Dingell Bill.

The bill would subvert a crucial aspect of the 1996 Telecommunications Act by enabling incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), or Baby Bells, to roll into long distance and out-state broadband markets without Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval. Currently, ILECs must satisfy competitive conditions in order to grow into these markets, and none has even come close to satisfying them, though the FCC has made exceptions in a few cases.

Debate has been heated, because many dissenting House members look at what has happened in telecommunications competition since the ’96 Act and are understandably disappointed at its ineffectiveness in establishing competition. The main reason for this is the fact that ILECs have not enabled competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) to become competitive, despite the law. And the Tauzin-Dingell bill would only reward ILECs for protecting their local monopolies.

The most vocal critic of the bill is House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. His committee was the last in the committee gauntlet before the bill got to the House floor. And according to a news item on our site today, he tagged the bill with a so-called negative referral and amended it in a very important way. The marked-up bill would give the Justice Department authority to determine whether ILECs’ long-distance data-service plans violate antitrust laws or not, and to undercut monopolistic efforts.

And, according to insiders such as Julian Epstein, Democratic counsel to the Judiciary Committee, the House floor vote will be even louder and more heated than the committee votes have been. Not to mention the thin chance the bill has in the Senate. “The bill doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in the Senate,” Epstein is quoted as saying in the story.

My take on this is if the bill is eventually defeated as expected, it will be a key victory for moderates on both sides of the aisle, because the right-leaning Tauzin exposed his close contacts with the telecom lobby and used a lot of political chips on a losing cause. Even if the bill passes the House, it will still require the Baby Bells to live within our antitrust laws. That’s a far cry from the original draft, which would have given the Baby Bells carte blanche to stamp out competition in their areas.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and

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