Tauzin-Dingell Bill Clears House Panel

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A broadband-deregulation bill designed to help the Baby Bells compete with
cable for high-speed Internet subscribers cleared the House Energy and Commerce
Committee Wednesday after the panel struggled for nearly eight hours over a host
of complex amendments.

The bill (H.R. 1547), approved in a 30-24 vote, can now move to the full
House for a vote, but Capitol Hill sources said that step could be several
months away due to a jurisdictional dispute with the Judiciary Committee and a
lack of consensus on key provisions that could damage the competitive position
of upstart local voice and data carriers.

Other issues that have to be resolved include whether the Bells will face up
to $20 million in fines for discriminating against voice-service competitors and
for failing to install digital-subscriber-line upgrades in all central offices
within five years.

The bill is intended to allow the Bells to enter the long-distance data
market immediately and to deploy high-speed Internet facilities without having
to lease parts of the network to competitors.

One of the biggest battles Wednesday involved changes to the Federal
Communications Commission's line-sharing rules, which permit data competitors to
save on payments to the Bells by leasing just the data portion of lines.

The bill, sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy
Tauzin (R-La.), would abolish line sharing on loops that the Bells have upgraded
with fiber in whole or in part, but retain the rules with regard to all-copper
lines.

An amendment that would have preserved line sharing on fiber lines failed in
27-27 vote. Under committee rules, amendments require a majority vote for
adoption.

Tauzin and his chief co-sponsor, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), said that had
the amendment passed, it would have destroyed any incentive for the Bells to
deploy fiber, which is critical for high-speed data to homes and
offices.

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