- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Lobbyists for two Baby Bell phone companies made a final pitch yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee for a bill to ease regulations in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

But the legislation introduced by Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, and Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, likely will lose momentum when control of a key Senate committee that would approve the bill changes hands.

Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, is expected to take control of the Senate Commerce Committee today.

"I think the senator believes the 1996 Telecommunications Act has done good things and continues to do good things," said Andy Davis, spokesman for Mr. Hollings.

The senator hasn't taken a position on the controversial Tauzin-Dingell bill, Mr. Davis said. But the long line of Bell competitors and consumer groups opposing the bill view his appointment to Senate Commerce Committee chairman as a victory against the four Baby Bells.

"I think Senator Hollings is a big supporter of competition in the local market and not a supporter of monopoly in the local market. So I think we will see legislation stall in his committee," said Jason Oxman, senior counsel for Covad Communications Co., a competitive local exchange carrier that markets high-speed Internet service over digital subscriber lines.

The Bells BellSouth Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., Qwest Communications International Inc. and SBC Communications Inc. hope to speed up introduction of high-speed Internet service, or broadband, by removing regulatory hurdles.

The Bells, AT&T; Corp. and others marketing broadband have a lot at stake. Revenue from broadband is expected to grow to $14.8 billion by 2005, according to Forrester Research Inc.

The 1996 telecommunications law gave the Bells the right to expand into long distance, but only after they open their local markets to competition. Since most Internet traffic travels beyond local calling areas, the 1996 law also keeps them from marketing Internet service and carrying data before they open the local-calling market to competitors.

But SBC Executive Vice President Margaret Greene said the cable companies that control 73 percent of the market for broadband need pressure from the Bells to persuade them to lower prices and to get more households signed up for the service. Only about 6.5 million U.S. households subscribe to broadband.

"If you're going to have a robust market, you need to let us into it," Mrs. Greene told lawmakers during the House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Committee Chairman James F. Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said his committee next week will mark up the Tauzin-Dingell bill and competing legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Christopher B. Cannon, Utah Republican.

"Like everyone else, I want my constituents to get high-speed Internet access as soon as possible with as many competitive choices as possible. Mr. Tauzin and Mr. Dingell promise their proposal will bring that to us. Mr. Cannon and Mr. Conyers promise their proposal will do the trick. But I am still trying to determine which can deliver on the promise," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

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