Enacting legislation to deregulate phone companies' data offerings is essential to denying cable a monopoly in the high-speed data market, Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) told a Senate panel Wednesday.
"If we risk any group of companies gaining a monopoly in broadband, it's the cable companies," said Tauzin. "They are unregulated and they've currently got the dominant position in the marketplace."
Added Dingell: "If you want to a look at monopolists, take a hard look at the cable folks."
Tauzin and Dingell appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to drum up support for their bill (HR 1542), which passed the House Feb. 27 by a 273-157 vote.
The cable industry serves about 7.2 million data subscribers, while phone companies have about 3 million digital subscriber line customers. About 80 million households currently have access to broadband service.
Despite warnings about the cable industry, many senators from both parties said they were unwilling to release the Baby Bell phone companies from network-sharing requirements in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
"That's what we have — a monopoly, unregulated service — and they are about to extend it to broadband," Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) said of the Bells.
Added Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), "I have some serious problems with HR 1542."
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the bill was a non-starter in the upper chamber. "Simply, the bill is not going to pass the United States Senate," he said.
But Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), John Breaux (D-La.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) praised Tauzin and Dingell for forcing Congress to confront the slow consumer adoption of broadband — relative to its availability — as well as for focusing on whether regulatory barriers need to be removed.
"We all want a level playing field," Breaux said. "Certainly, something has to be done in this area."