The major difference between the two is the fact that the Judiciary Committee includes a role for the Justice Department in approving moves by regional Bell operating companies into long distance and other areas, while the Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee avoids the issue.
The full Commerce Committee is slated to consider its subcommittee's bill May 24 and to deal with unresolved issues. Once the bill passes the full committee, it goes to the Judiciary Committee.
The Senate's telecommunications bill has already passed the full Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and is awaiting action on the floor.
The electronic publishing provision in both the House Judiciary and Commerce bills is similar to last year's legislation, which was supported by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).
Robert W. Decherd, president and CEO of A.H. Belo Corp., told the Commerce subcommittee that NAA supported the bill because it "will create the market and the market conditions needed to allow the electronic publishing industry to flourish."
He gave three reasons why NAA supports the current bill:
"First," he said, "it appears that free market alternatives to the Bell's basic telephone exchange monopoly are feasible in the near future, provided that Congress fosters competition in local distribution ? which we believe this bill will do.
"Second, the separate subsidiary safeguard provisions for electronic publishing are an appropriate transitional mechanism that involves virtually no new government regulation.
"Third, this legislation will promote new market entry by independent publishers and by the Bell companies so that the American public can more quickly enjoy all of the benefits promised by the Information Age," Decherd continued.
He added that NAA would prefer to bar the Bells from becoming content providers, "until local exchange competition has developed.
"However, our concerns in this regard can largely be met with transitional safeguards that will remain in place until local competition becomes a reality," he said. He further noted that the bill retained the "heart" of safeguards NAA sought, to restrict the Bells from abusing their local monopoly power if they enter businesses providing electronic information content.
Requiring the Bells to operate electronic publishing ventures through separate subsidiaries "will make it more difficult for the [regional Bell operating companies] to engage in discrimination or cross-subsidy and much easier for any violations to be detected and corrected," Decherd added.
The bill also contains special provisions to make it easier for small, local electronic publishers to participate in joint ventures with the RBOCs, he said. nE&P
By: Debra Gersh Hernandez THE HOUSE JUDICIARY Committee and a subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee have passed different versions of telecommunications legislation.