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House mulls regional phone dereg bill

Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) on Tuesday introduced a bill to deregulate regional phone companies, eliciting a shriek from several associations claiming the bill would kill long-distance data competition.

"This bill will do nothing but introduce uncertainty into the market," said Steve Riccheti, co-chairman of the Voices for Choices coalition, which is composed of groups that oppose the bill. "It will make it harder, if not impossible, for competitive phone companies to break into local markets and lower local phone bills, and it could result in more jobs being lost in the competitive phone and data services industry."

"They should call this the Broadband Derailment Act, not the Broadband Deployment Act," said Russell Frisby, president of the Competitive Telecommunications Association.

Others opposing the measure are long-distance providers AT&T Corp. and Worldcom as well as the Association of Local Telecommunications Services, the American Conservative Union, the Small Business Survival Committee and several others.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Telecom Association said the group was a front for AT&T, which opposes the bill because it wants to stifle data services from regional phone companies. "It's time for Congress to stop protecting AT&T from competition and allow consumers to benefit from a fully competitive market for high-speed Internet service," said Gary Lytle, USTA's interim president.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee hears testimony on the bill Wednesday. The House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee vote on the bill Thursday.
- Paige Albiniak