Notebaert to Congress: Keep It Simple

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When Congress gets around to writing a new telecommunications law, Qwest Communications International Inc. chairman and CEO Richard Notebaert wants at least one favor: Keep it simple.

In Senate testimony Tuesday, Notebaert said the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a failure because it was far too complicated, leaving much of the work to regulators who took too long to decide issues and provide regulatory certainty.

"The [law], which was just over 100 pages, morphed into thousands of page of decisions and rules," Notebaert told the Senate Commerce Committee.

Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- one of five senators to vote against the law -- is planning to introduce a telecommunications-reform bill later in the year.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) -- who had a major role in producing the 1996 law -- argued that the Baby Bell phone companies contributed to turmoil in the telecommunications sector by fighting network-unbundling rules and other measures designed to open their networks to competition.

"What we should have done is ordered the unbundling by a certain time," Hollings said.

With the explosion of the Internet for electronic mail and voice communications, key lawmakers are concerned that the 1996 law has become antiquated.

"So much has changed since 1996, it's breathtaking," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said.