As the Federal Communications Commission nears a vote on overhauling local
phone-competition rules, House Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin
(R-La.) Wednesday cast in rare partisan terms the goal before the agency.
"The first step this FCC ought to take is to rip the rules that were put in
place by Al Gore and Reed Hundt out by the roots and throw them away," Tauzin
said at a hearing on the hard-hit sector before the House Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and the Internet.
Hundt was FCC chairman in 1996 when the agency adopted local
phone-competition rules that deliberately set low wholesale rates to stimulate
Tauzin, an ally of the Baby Bell phone giants, claimed that those rules
decimated the industry, especially equipment vendors, and that key FCC policies
had to be abolished.
FCC chairman Michael Powell, whom Tauzin backed for the job, is pushing a
deregulatory plan that fellow Republican commissioner Kevin Martin has refused
to embrace in its totality. Unlike Powell, Martin wants to preserve a
substantial role for state regulators.
Tauzin dropped a strong hint he wanted Powell's view to prevail.
"The very least our Republican members of the FCC should want is a wholesale
change in the overly regulatory approach that was taken by Al Gore and Reed
Hundt," Tauzin said.
The FCC has scheduled a Feb. 13 public meeting to vote on the new rules,
which Powell hopes can begin to turn around a sector that in recent years has
lost 500,000 jobs and $2 trillion in market value.
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) supports retention of rules that requiring the
Bells to share their networks with rivals. He said the rules would expand
consumer choice and drive prices down, especially in the residential
"I just think it would be a big mistake for us to remove that pressure in
order to satisfy a recovering monopolist's desire to go back to the way the
world used to be," Markey said.
"I think our job is to ensure that we don't have that recidivism they so
ardently desire replace the new competitive marketplace that has served our
country in a way that revolutionized the economy," he added.