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House mulls long distance broadband break

Lawmakers expect a bill to pass in the House this year that would grant regulatory relief to regional phone companies so they can send data long distances over high-speed networks.

The bill's chances of gaining passage in the House are much greater now that Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) told the U.S. Telecom Association on Wednesday.

Boucher reminded the group that last year both former House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.) and former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) refused to hold a vote on broadband deregulation in their respective committees. But now "there's a clear path to passage through the House Energy and Commerce Committee," Boucher said.

For that reason, Boucher and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are unlikely to try to push their own version of a broadband deregulation bill through the House Judiciary Committee, Boucher said. Instead, Boucher would like to introduce legislation that would give companies offering converged technologies - such as voice, data and video services over one network - a different regulatory definition. Included in that bill would be language requiring those companies to keep their networks open for competitors' use, a so-called "uniform national open access policy," Boucher said.

Dingell, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking member, also addressed the group, saying that without broadband connections the digital economy will continue to flounder. "It is our best hope for getting the New Economy up and running again," Dingell said.

Both Boucher and Dingell said chances for passage of such a bill in the Senate remain slim to unknown, but for now they are focusing on passing legislation through the house with a large majority of members. - Paige Albiniak