- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

A Maryland state lawmaker, advocating consumer rights in Montgomery County, has introduced a package of legislation intended to foster competition with Verizon Communications.
One of the bills in the package, the Stern-Davis Bill, advocated by Delegate Joan Stern, Maryland Democrat, calls for Verizon to agree to a strict "code of conduct" that will govern its dealings with competitors. "We're also seeking increased funding for the Public Service Commission and the People's Counsel," Ms. Stern says.
The legislation will be presented at a hearing later this month.
Ms. Stern says the state simply doesn't have the funds to address what she terms a tremendous backlog of customer complaints about Verizon service. The bill would set up a special fund for agency operating expenses to assess these complaints.
"Right now Verizon controls the lines, and access to the lines," she says. "There has not been a lot of competition meaningful to local consumers. Our subcommittee is moving forward with legislation that we believe will hold Verizon accountable."
The proposal has plenty of opponents.
"This sounds like a bill that will ask Verizon to shoot itself in the foot," says Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications study at the Cato Institute, a District think tank.
"Why should they fund their own competitors? What we really need on the state and federal level is regulatory relief. With all of these regulations currently in place, it seems like it's never enough for some lawmakers," says Mr. Thierer.
At issue is exactly how easy it should be for Verizon's competitors to share Verizon's network. Critics argue that Verizon intentionally makes it difficult for competitors to lease space on their network.
This is not Ms. Stern's first clash with telecom giant Verizon. Last year, Ms. Stern proposed a bill that would force Verizon to break into two parts, one unit handling residential phone lines and one handling retail. She pulled the bill from consideration when it became clear that it would not pass a review committee.
Verizon counters that Ms. Stern's true objective is not increased competition. "She clearly has a vendetta against Verizon," says Sean Looney, director of government affairs at Verizon Maryland. "I don't think that this bill will do anything to promote competition and it is absolutely unnecessary. I think that everyone's goal is to someday have full facilities-based competition. If we provide access to our network at a price that is too low, it will remove the incentive for competitors to build their own networks."
Mr. Looney also asserts that there is already enough infrastructure in place to deal with complaints against Verizon. "We currently share our network with 37 competitors, and we've had one complaint from one company. There is a myth that Verizon is doing terrible stuff to our competitors. That myth has not been supported by fact."


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