House broadband legislation (HR 1542) favorable to the Baby Bells was killed
for the year, a setback on Thursday that dashed the hopes of supporters that had
planned on House passage on Friday.
After days of tough negotiations, the drive to pass the controversial measure
suddenly collapsed, causing an aide to House Majority Leader Rep. Richard Armey
(R-Texas.) to release a statement confirming that no vote on Friday would
'The leadership has decided to move the vote on broadband to a date certain
after we return next year. The likely date would be March,' the Armey aide
The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell
(D-Mich.), would help the Bells by allowing them to enter the long-haul data
market immediately and shield their broadband networks from government-imposed
sharing requirements with competitors.
AT&T Corp., state regulators and local governments, and various other
Bell competitors waged an aggressive campaign against the bill. The Bells used
TV and radio ads to say that without deregulation cable operators would dominate
the broadband market.
'It's obviously a huge defeat for the Bell monopolies,' said AT&T
spokesman Jim McGann. 'Probably one of the key factors is really the
overwhelming outcry by state [regulators]. Under the bill, they would not be
able to regulate the terms and conditions of the Bells' broadband
Verizon Communications Inc., the Baby Bell from Maine to Virginia, pushed
hard for the legislation. The company plans to resume the fight next year.
'We continue to believe this is very important to the country so we will
persevere,' a Verizon spokeswoman said.
Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson, who had expected passage of the bill on Friday,
said House approval was inevitable early next year.
'This was a delay, not a defeat. We have a firm commitment now for moving the
bill to the House floor,' Johnson said. 'We have the votes to pass it and we
have the champagne ordered.'
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined to oppose
the bill despite opposition of AT&T, the nation's largest cable operator.
NCTA stayed out because the bill wouldn't regulate cable Internet access.
Word spread Thursday that Tauzin attempted to lure cable into formally
endorsing the bill by threatening to add a cable access amendment if cable
stayed on the sidelines.
'We haven't seen any such amendment. To our knowledge, nothing was filed,' an
NCTA spokesman said. 'As we stated last spring, we were not opposed to the bill
in its then-current form but that was because the bill did nothing to regulate
cable. If an amendment were to change that, we would have to reconsider.'
Johnson declined to comment on whether Tauzin attempted to add a cable access
'Billy's position on open access has been very consistent: His goal is to
level the playing field among competitors. We can either deregulate the
telephone companies or regulate cable,' Johnson said.
Even if the House passed the bill, Senate passage has always been considered
a long shot due to the opposition of Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ernest
(Fritz) Hollings (D-S.C.).
Regulatory relief from Congress may not be necessary for the Bells. The
Federal Communications Commission is considering four rulemakings designed to
reduce the regulatory burdens on phone companies that offer broadband.
FCC chairman Michael Powell has repeatedly called for minimal government
regulation of broadband and has called the national deployment of broadband a