Breaux, Nickles Team Up on Broadband Bill

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The Federal Communications Commission would be required to deregulate
broadband services of phone companies without increasing regulation of
cable-modem service, according to Senate legislation introduced Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Don Nickles (R-Okla.),
represents a milder version of broadband legislation that passed the House in
February but received a chilly reception from Senate Commerce Committee chairman
Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.).

In a prepared statement, Breaux said the bill would spur widespread broadband
deployment and use by eliminating regulations on phone company-provided
digital-subscriber-line service.

Under Breaux-Nickles, the FCC would have 120 days to write rules establishing
regulatory parity among all providers of broadband access and broadband
services. The commission is to do so without increasing regulation of
cable-modem service.

'We appreciate and share Sen. Breaux's view that increased regulation of
cable-provided Internet services is not the way to advance broadband
deployment,' National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Marc
Osgoode Smith said.

The bill would block states from regulating broadband access, services,
facilities and equipment.

Breaux-Nickles commands the FCC to ensure that all broadband providers are
subject to 'the same regulatory requirements or no regulatory requirements,'
with the proviso that no one offering broadband service shall experience
increased regulation.

That formulation, sources said, suggests that the commission is required to
push deregulation of phone companies, and maybe even cable companies, to the
lowest level of regulation applicable to a broadband-service provider.

Sources noted that direct-broadcast satellite providers are likely the most
lightly regulated broadband providers licensed by the FCC. Another possibility
is unlicensed wireless fidelity (or Wi Fi) networks, which are totally
unregulated.

Although Breaux-Nickles' goal is regulatory parity among broadband providers,
special rules would nevertheless apply to Baby Bell phone companies and non-Baby
Bell local phone incumbents.

For example, all incumbent phone companies would be required to furnish
access to all Internet-service providers. Competitive local phone companies
would not have the same access rights as ISPs. Cable operators would not be
required to provide such access to ISPs.

Sue Ashdown, executive director of the American ISP Association, called
Breaux-Nickles 'a giant step backward' by deregulating the Baby Bells.

Bell interests voiced strong support for the bill.

The Breaux bill would leave in place the law and regulations that require the
Baby Bells to open their local markets before offering long-distance
service.

House-passed legislation sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John
Dingell (D-Mich.) allows the Bells to transport data long distance
immediately.

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