Washington -- House Telecommunications Subcommittee
chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) plans to submit legislation to broadly deregulate Baby Bell
provision of Internet access and data transmission across long-distance barriers.
The bill -- expected to be filed Wednesday (June 30) with
bipartisan support on the House Commerce Committee -- is unlikely to gain the approval of
Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.), who believes the marketplace is
functioning properly under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
"Having firmly established the rules of the road,
Congress, the [Federal Communications Commission] and the courts need to step aside and
let these companies compete," Bliley said in a prepared statement last Thursday.
Tauzin said he hoped Bliley would come around to his view
that strict rules governing voice telephony are constraining Bell entry into the nascent
but rapidly growing data markets.
Among other things, Tauzin's bill would allow the
Bells to transport data between local calling areas without having to prove to state
regulators and the FCC that their local networks are open to competition, a House source
The bill would bar the Bells from marketing voice services
over their data networks and from engaging in billing and collection, a House source said.
Meanwhile, AT&T Corp. sent House members a letter last
Wednesday denouncing similar Bell-deregulation legislation (H.R. 1685 and 1686) introduced
in May by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.).
At a hearing last Thursday, America Online Inc. senior vice
president George Vradenburg urged Tauzin's panel to ensure that cable-data networks
are open to unaffiliated Internet-service providers.
"It's not only feasible, but a low-cost
solution," Vradenburg said, putting the one-time headend-equipment costs at $1 per
subscriber based on a recent GTE Corp. cable-system trial in Clearwater, Fla.
Marc Apfelbaum, senior vice president and general counsel
for Time Warner Cable, said his company has never made the point that opening its network
to multiple ISPs was impossible -- only that it was technically challenging and costly.
"We don't leave two engineers alone in a room in
our company because they can do anything and, often times, they want to do everything. But
if we let them make these decisions, the cost of cable service would probably be $1,000
per month," Apfelbaum added.
Alex Netchvolodoff, vice president of public policy for Cox
Communications Inc., said cable was one of many broadband-access providers attempting to
find its way in a market still in the early stages of development.
"It's way too early, I think, for policymakers to
consider a regulatory intervention," Netchvolodoff added.