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Bipartisan group backs broadband dereg bill

Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) faced down a formidable bipartisan coalition of lawmakers on Thursday to get their broadband deregulation bill passed through the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

The five-hour session is merely a preamble to next week's full committee vote, which could see intra-committee spats heat up and drag out. Tauzin and Dingell's bill, which proposes allowing the regional Bell operating companies to offer deregulated broadband services, was strongly opposed by Republican subcommittee members Chris Cox (Calif.), Steve Largent (Okla.), Chip Pickering (Miss.) and Heather Wilson (N.M.). That group was joined on the Democratic side by Ed Markey (Mass.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Karen McCarthy (Mo.), Bill Luther (Minn.), Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Jane Harman (Calif.), all of whom are concerned that deregulating the BOCs' high-speed data services will result in also deregulating their voice services, removing any incentives the BOCs have to open their local voice markets to competition. Still, Tauzin managed to convince members to withdraw nearly every amendment they suggested before the panel could vote on them, agreeing to work behind the scenes to craft compromise provisions.

Tauzin and Dingell are pushing to get the bill through the House quickly, hoping it will pass the House before members leave for their July recess. Even if Tauzin and Dingell are successful, they face a steep uphill battle in the Senate where no one has agreed to sponsor a companion bill and several Senators already have lined up to oppose the measure. - Paige Albiniak