House lawmakers, backed by AT&T Corp. and other competitive phone
carriers, took the first step Thursday to derail legislation designed to
deregulate high-speed-data services provided by the four Baby Bell phone
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a bill meant to keep the incumbent Bells out
of the long-distance data-transport market in any states where the incumbent Bell
company serves more than 85 percent of business or residential subscribers.
Local phone companies currently control about 93 percent of residential lines
and 82 percent of business access lines, according to the Federal Communications
The Conyers bill was presented as a countermeasure to a bill (H.R. 1542)
sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.)
and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) that would allow the Bells into the
long-distance data market prior to opening their local phone networks to
'We don't need to do special favors for the monopolies,' Conyers, the ranking
Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said at a Capitol Hill press
As a companion measure to the Conyers bill, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah)
introduced a bill that would ensure that antitrust laws apply to violations of
certain sections of communications law and that would bar Bells that violate
antitrust laws from jointly marketing high-speed Internet access with other
voice and information services.
'I think the Tauzin bill does damage, and I want to stop that,' Cannon said.
'I am certainly happy with slowing down a bill that I think is deeply
destructive in the long term.'
Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson, who criticized the Conyers-Cannon efforts as
excessively regulatory, said it was possible that the Energy and Commerce
Committee would vote on the Tauzin-Dingell bill next week.
'We want to deregulate broadband service. They want to regulate. It's a
pretty simple yet stark choice. Frankly, we don't believe there is any sentiment
on Capitol Hill to pass a heavy-handed regulatory bill,' Johnson said.
In a prepared statement, AT&T applauded the introduction of the
Conyers-Cannon bills as appropriate restraints on potential anti-competitive
'Unlike the Tauzin-Dingell bill being rammed through the House Commerce
Committee, these broadband-deployment bills were written with an understanding
of the dangers of allowing the Bells to remonopolize the industry and dominate
the Internet,' AT&T said.The Conyers bill, if enacted, would not require the
FCC to rescind long-distance entry approval already granted to Verizon
Communications in two states and to SBC Communications Inc. in three states.
The Conyers bill -- an antitrust measure that would authorize the U.S.
Attorney General to police the 85 percent-penetration test -- would not require
cable operators to open their networks to competing Internet-service
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined to comment
until the trade group had time to review the bills.
The United States Telecom Association -- which represents the Baby Bells and
hundreds of small telcos -- reaffirmed its support for the Tauzin-Dingell
'Congress needs to pass the Tauzin-Dingell bill and remove regulations that
distort the market so phone companies can compete on an equal footing with cable
companies,' USTA interim president Gary Lytle said.
The Conyers bill would also establish a $3 billion fund
administered by the Attorney General to make low-cost direct loans and loan
guarantees to broadband providers committed to serving rural and underserved