Telco Group Rides Portland Coattails

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Washington -- In the wake of the open-access federal court
decision in Portland, Ore., the United States Telephone Association last Tuesday called
for greater deregulation of the telecommunications industry.

USTA president and CEO Roy Neel criticized the Federal
Communications Commission for failing to open access to the broadband industry.

Neel cited a decision by the U.S. District Court in
Portland, Ore., in favor of local cable regulators and against AT&T Corp. to bolster
his charges against the FCC. Judge Owen Panner ruled June 4 that AT&T Broadband &
Internet Services must provide access to its cable network to competing Internet-service
providers.

Speaking to telecommunications reporters, Neel said the
ruling revealed flaws in current FCC regulations that allow companies to be excluded from
using the larger network systems of companies such as AT&T.

"They're putting together a monopoly without
regulation, and they've been endorsed by the FCC," he said. "We think it's time
that the FCC provides some relief so they can go out and do business against these
mega-conglomerates."

Neel said five bills currently before congressional
committees could provide some regulatory relief by lifting regional policies and limiting
the FCC's role. Among them are measures authored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Orrin
Hatch (R-Utah), and another by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.).

"There's real movement here -- a real possibility, if
not probability, that legislation will pass in Congress to bring movement into this
industry," Neel said. "There is a lot of good in all of these bills, but right
now, we think the McCain-Hatch bill is the best way to go."

Congress is likely to pass legislation on industry reform
because there is broad bipartisan support, Neel said.

He added that members of Congress would have little problem
convincing the public that reforms are needed if they can show that open access to
broadband systems would help them. "It could be seen as a service done for
constituents by legislators," he said.

While Neel said he supported the measures in Congress, he
stated that direct action by the FCC was also needed.

"We are pushing hard for a deregulation of our
companies to allow us to compete with companies like AT&T and MediaOne [Group
Inc.]," Neel said. "We petitioned the FCC to establish a convergence docket.
It's time that the FCC reforms its regulations to what is going on in the market."

Neel said that although the FCC is still important as far
as mandating telephone access in rural areas that lack it, he hoped the commission would
play a decreasing role in years to come.

"The FCC eventually ought to back out of all economic
regulation. It should gradually become an enforcement agency," he said. "My own
view is that the FCC eventually ought to back out of all economic regulation."

States News Service

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