Telecommunications And The Clinton Administration p.11

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Vice President Gore expands on government's view of a telecommunications legislation package sp.

THE CLINTON administration will support provisions in a bill that requires regional Bell operating companies to establish separate affiliates for electronic publishing, according to a white paper on its recently announced telecommunications legislation package.
The bill sponsored by Reps. Jack Brooks (D-Texas) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) was introduced just before Congress adjourned in December (E&P, Dec. 4, 1993, p. 20). Hearings are slated for the end of January.
Vice President Al Gore, during a speech this week before the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, also praised telco bills sponsored by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Jack Fields (R-Texas) as well as Senate legislation introduced earlier in 1993.
Administration officials said they are aware of the work that has been done on the Hill and are not trying to circumvent it. The White House and Congress are in accordance on a number of issues and they have been working to build a consensus.
When asked whether the administration would be introducing its own legislation or if it would be seeking to amend bills already introduced, officials at a background briefing said they are working to find the best way to get the administration's package enacted.
Gore's speech added details to remarks that he made a few weeks ago at the National Press Club in Washington, where he outlined the basic principles underlying the administration's telecommunications goals (E&P, Jan. 1, p. 40).
Noting that the Clinton administration intends to introduce its legislative package very soon, Gore said officials will "work with Congress to ensure speedy passage this year of a bill that will stand the test of time."
Among the provisions of the Clinton package are establishment of a federal standard permitting entry into the local telephone markets.
Gore explained that the Federal Communications Commission "will be authorized to reduce regulation for telecommunications carriers that lack market power. We expect open competition to bring lower prices and better services. But let me be clear: We insist upon safeguards to ensure that new corporate freedoms will not be translated into sudden and unjustified rate increases for telephone consumers."
Further endorsing a Brooks-Dingell provision, Gore said the administration supports establishment of "a framework for allowing long-distance and local telephone companies to compete against each other. Regulation and review of this framework should be transferred from the courts to the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.
"This process of change must be carefully calibrated," he continued. "We must make sure that the regional Bells will not be able to use their present monopoly positions as unfair leverage into new lines of business. That is why the administration supports the approach of the Brooks-Dingell provision that requires the approval of the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission before the regional Bells may provide interexchange services ? most notably long distance."
The administration also would "continue to bar the acquisition of existing cable companies by telephone companies within their local service areas," although it would "permit telephone companies to provide video programming over new, open access systems."
There would be exceptions, however, for rural areas where more than one carrier could not be supported. The FCC also could allow such acquisitions five years after enactment if conditions such as competition in the market are met.
Gore pointed out, "For now, we cannot assume that competition in the local loop will end all of the accrued market power of past regulatory advantage and market domination.
"We cannot permit the creation of information bottlenecks that adversely affect information providers who use the highways as a means of supplying their customers," he said. "Nor can we permit bottlenecks for information consumers who desire programming that may not be available through the wires that enter their homes or offices.
"Preserving the free flow of information requires open access," Gore said, adding, "We can't subject the free flow of content to artificial constraints at the hands of either government regulators or would-be monopolists."
Thus, he said, "Our legislative package will contain provisions designed to ensure that each telephone carrier's networks will be readily accessible to other users. We will create an affirmative obligation to interconnect and to afford nondiscriminatory access to network facilities, services, functions and information. We must also explore the future of noncommercial broadcasting; there must be public access to the information superhighway."
Gore said the administration favors "genuine regulatory symmetry. That means regulation must be based on the services that are offered and the ability to compete ? and not on corporate identity, regulatory history or technological progress."
Another proposal of the Clinton administration involves creation of a voluntary, alternative regulatory regime for providers of broadband, interactive services.
These companies could choose between regulation under the Communications Act or under a new section of the act, known as Title VII, "that would harmonize those provisions in order to provide a single system of regulation," Gore said.
"These Title VII companies would be able to avoid the danger of conflicting or duplicative regulatory burdens," he explained. "But in return, they would provide their services and access to their facilities to others on a nondiscriminatory basis."
The administration wants its legislation to be flexible and adaptable to new technologies, and it wants to be sure that society does not become divided into information "haves" and "have-nots." "This is not a matter of guaranteeing the right to play video games. It is a matter of guaranteeing access to essential services," the vice president noted.
Legislation is the first step but is only one part of the administration's National Information Infrastructure agenda, Gore said. Other parts include investment in technology; promoting applications in scientific research, energy efficiency and manufacturing; more efficient delivery of government services; and updating of privacy and copyright protections as well as providing the information infrastructure to all schools, libraries, hospitals and clinics in the country by the year 2000.
? (Vice President Al Gore) [Photo]


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