- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

Key lawmakers said a bill to deregulate the telecommunications industry will not pass the Senate, crushing the momentum that its sponsors built over three years while they shepherded the measure through the House.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said yesterday that a bill to loosen restrictions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 stands no chance, in its current form, of earning Senate approval.
"The bill is not going to pass the United States Senate," Mr. Dorgan said during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing.
The House passed the bill by a wide margin last month.
Opposition from the Senate Commerce Committee was no secret. The committee chairman, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, has repeatedly criticized the legislation as an attempt to help the regional Bell operating companies extend their monopolies in the market for local-calling service to the market for nationwide Internet service.
Mr. Hollings' position is significant because the committee has jurisdiction over telecommunications issues.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, and Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, acknowledged the committee's hesitation to rubber stamp the bill they sponsored but urged members to make the changes necessary to get the measure approved.
"If you can do better than we did, we challenge you to do it," Mr. Dingell said.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that the Baby Bells Verizon Communications Inc., Qwest Communications International Inc., BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc. prove they have opened their local calling markets to competitors before they can offer long-distance data services. The Bells control more than 90 percent of all local phone lines now. Deregulation would preserve those monopolies, Mr. Hollings said.
While opponents of the bill focus on the potential harm it could cause to small phone companies that compete with the Bells, the Bells say the debate should be over cable companies that market high-speed Internet service, or broadband. The Bells want changes to the law because marketing Internet services nationally will bolster revenue and let them chip away at the stranglehold cable companies have on broadband service.
About 10 million U.S. households have broadband service, according to technology research firm Jupiter Media Metrix. Most subscribers 6.2 million homes get broadband through their cable providers.


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