Washington -- Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) pressed FederalCommunications Commission chairman William Kennard last Tuesday to explain agency policiesthat keep the Baby Bells from the long-distance-data markets.
Dingell, at a House subcommittee hearing, asked Kennardrepeatedly why cable operators are virtually deregulated to provide Internet service, butthe Bells remain tied to voice-network-opening obligations before they can transmit dataregionally or nationally.
"There is one very important complicating factor, andthat is the fact that those copper wires that are transmitting broadband over thetelephone lines are also being used to transmit voice telephony," Kennard said.
Kennard added that his hope was for regulatory paritybetween cable and telephone companies, but premature deregulation of the Bells' voicenetworks would undermine that goal.
In one exchange, Dingell asked: "Why should they beregulated differently when they are giving functionally equivalent service?" To whichKennard replied: "Well, they shouldn't, but the question is: How do we get them bothon an even keel?"
Dingell is the Commerce Committee's senior Democrat, and hehas been a vocal critic of the FCC's regulation of the Baby Bells since the passage of theTelecommunications Act of 1996. Tauzin and Dingell are sponsoring a bill (H.R. 2420) thatwould force the FCC to allow the Bells to transport data across local market barriers.
The focus of the hearing was Kennard's five-year plan tooverhaul the FCC, which includes a consolidation of bureaus along functional lines with anew emphasis on enforcement of rules.
Tauzin, chairman of the House TelecommunicationsSubcommittee, complained that a five-year time frame was too long given how quickly thecompanies it regulates are changing.
Kennard said his reliance on a five-year plan was abenchmark required by law. But in reality, he said, the FCC is moving much faster,pointing to the creation of an Enforcement Bureau that begins work Nov. 8.
"I don't want anyone to think that five years is theend point," he added.
Kennard commented that rapid overhaul of the FCC was a badidea because if the staff had to focus on its work and reorganization, the agency would"grind to a dead halt."
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) agreed, saying that a"radical restructuring" was ill-advised. He added that the agency's role wouldnaturally diminish once it had accomplished its mission to "demonopolize"communications markets.