Target Date For New Telco Legislation p. 14

By: Editorial Staff Republican lawmakers set July 4 as day both the
Senate and the House will have passed a law
replacing the Communications Act of 1934 sp.

REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS HAVE set July 4 as their target date for passage of telecommunications legislation.
At a recent hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the chairmen of that Senate committee, the House Commerce Committee and its Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee, all stated that they would work for quick passage of telco legislation.
"My pledge to everyone is this: Before Independence Day this year ? before the Fourth of July ? both the Senate and the House will have passed a law replacing the Communications Act of 1934," stated Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), the committee chairman.
Pressler cited three key principles for telco legislation: provisions to open world markets; open and full access to competition among various media; and minimized government regulations.
"I want to be very clear that I am resolute in my commitment to passing a new telecommunications bill," he said. "I know there are many skeptics and naysayers who simply believe, or worse yet, desire, that it not happen.
"To that group, all I will say is this: The train is leaving the station ? we welcome you on board. If, however, you fail to get on board and insist on laying on the tracks in an attempt to stop the train from leaving or slow the train's progress, it could well be quite hazardous to your health," Pressler said.
Telco legislation was on its way to passage in the last Congress ? a bi-partisan bill had already been passed in the House ? but the Senate bill was killed in the final days before adjournment.
One of those who led the opposition last year was Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), now majority leader, who believed the last telco bill was too regulatory.
"Telecommunications legislation should not be about business versus business, or industry versus industry," Dole told the committee. "Instead, Congress should take the high road and shoot for good policy.
"As I see it," he continued, "we should provide a competitive framework for business to work out its differences. The marketplace, not government, should pick the winners and losers."
Dole mirrored the concerns of a number of Republican senators on the committee when he noted that legislation should include provisions for universal service.
He also called on Congress to reclaim "telecommunications policy-making from the courts and the FCC," and give "business the security to make the necessary investments to meet consumer demands."
Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said the House version of a telecommunications bill will include five goals:
The first is to open all telecommunications markets to encourage competition. The second is to ensure that the phone company monopoly broken up 15 years ago not be replaced with another monopoly. Third, telecommunications policy should be returned to the Congress, rather than the courts where it "has been formulated . . . on an ad hoc basis and on a patchwork basis in the states," Bliley said.
Fourth, he continued, private investment will be encouraged through competition ? "massive government expenditures are not necessary to build the infrastructure of the future. Industry will carry the load if the proper incentives are provided."
And, fifth, Bliley said, House legislation would remove regulatory barriers and facilitate "the free flow of resources."
In the 103rd Congress, Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas) co-sponsored a bipartisan telco bill that was passed by the full House and then combined with a similar House bill.
Now chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, Fields again intends to submit legislation and believes hearings could begin in late January or early February, with markup by late March, and the possibility of the bill's reaching the floor before Easter.
Fields also said that he hoped there would be an agreement in the ongoing access negotiations between the long distance companies and the regional Bell operating companies, but that the committee would not wait "an inordinate period of time for an agreement. We are going to pass legislation this year with or without an agreement."
Although no Democrats testified before the Senate committee, Vice President Al Gore had been invited to do so. He declined, citing concern over separation of powers customs, but remarks he made earlier that day to a federal-state-local telco summit were entered into the record by Pressler.
The vice president said the administration seeks "open and free competition in which any company is free to offer any information, good or service to any customer."
Gore outlined a "Statement of Policy Objectives" that included recognizing the importance of private investment to build the National Information Infrastructure; supporting policies to promote competition; confirming the need for open access to public switched networks; reaffirming the importance of universal service; keeping regulations agile enough to match market changes; and asserting the importance of government action to protect consumers' pocketbooks and privacy.
"We propose that the administration work with the Congress, the industry, the public interest community and [others] . . . to decide in a timely manner the rules necessary for a fair game, and let the play begin," Gore stated. "No team should be allowed to bring in ringers or begin with unfair advantages gained from previous monopolistic positions and practices, and no team should be allowed to unduly slow or complicate play.
"But the game should not begin on some arbitrary date, without rules at all, on the mistaken assumption that a calendar can replace a rule book. Too many people and businesses have too much at stake to be subject to the vagaries of trying to play now and figure out the rules later," the vice president added.
?( As I see it, we should provide a competitive framework for business to work out its differences. The marketplace, not government, should pick the winners and losers." ) [Caption]
?(-Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) [Photo]


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