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Battle of the broadband bills

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah) on Thursday introduced legislation meant to counteract a bill, sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), that would allow incumbent phone companies to offer high-speed data across long distances.

The two are offering two bills. The first would make it an antitrust violation if incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) broke any communications laws. The second would only allow ILECs into voice and data long distance if they first met the 1996 Telecommunications Act's 14-point checklist (so-called section 271 requirements) as the law stands now or, should Tauzin-Dingell become law, if the Attorney General ruled that the ILEC in question controlled less than 85% of the local voice market. That bill also would grant $3 billion worth of government-funded loans at 2% interest for providers who want to offer broadband services in rural and urban-poor areas.

A broad coalition supports the Conyers-Cannon approach, and the members of that coalition mirror those who oppose Tauzin-Dingell. Among them are AT&T, Sprint, Consumers Union and Voices for Choices, which is a group that includes AT&T, Worldcom, the Association of Local Telecommunications Services, the Competitive Telecommunications Association, the Computing Technology Industry Association and Covad, a competitive local exchange carrier. - Paige Albiniak