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House Telecom Subcommittee Passes e911, Broadband Data Bills

Rushing to make floor votes, the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee voted swiftly to approve first drafts of bills that would improve the Federal Communications Commission's broadband-data-collection process and would make it the law of the land that voice-over-Internet-protocol phone service providers have the interconnection access they need to make sure emergency (


) calls go to a local operator.

While the two bills passed unanimously, they still must go through some more negotiation before a vote in the full committee. Among the key issues are how much company data the FCC will have access to in its broadband-collection process. Some Republicans are concerned that the bill in its current form does not sufficiently protect senstive corporate information

Ranking Republican Fred Upton (R-Mich.), for example, said that he was concerned that the bill extended beyond an effort to map where broadband was and wasn't available to one that compels carriers to disclose sensitive data, converting the bill from one "about broadband consumer availability to a regulatory bill about market share."

Democrat Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania said that he was sensitive to privacy concerns, too, but also didn't want the information redacted to the point that "no one gets access to it." He added that for the broadband data to be useful, "We have to let creative people present it in creative ways." Say, combining data on available homes for sale with broadband availability so that buyers would know the broadband-connectivity status of their possible future home.

Among the changes to the broadband bill worked out in what Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called a bipartisan negotiation, was no longer redefining broadband as speeds of at least 2 megabits per second and no longer making gathering of information on prices and speeds an industry obligation, but a consumer survey conducted by the FCC. The survey will include what types of broadband applications and services consumers most use.

The e911 bill will give VoIP providers (which increasingly include cable operators) interconnection access to existing phone networks at the same prices and terms as wireless providers are given. The FCC had already paved the way for that access in its own rulemaking, but the committee is making it the law rather than simply the FCC rule.

Doyle also complained again -- he grilled FCC chairman Kevin Martin at a March hearing -- that a 2006 FCC study on e911 was not completed after FCC staffers saw some of the results. Doyle said it was part of a pattern of government-funded research thwarted by the commission. He had planned to introduce an amendment addressing the FCC process of preparing and releasing reports, but he withdrew it after Republicans vowed to oppose all amendments "no matter the merits," he said.

Last week, an FCC inspector general's report concluded that the commission had not suppressed two other studies, an investigation prompted by congressional Democrats.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow praised the passage of both bills in the subcommittee.

"Cable operators already provide their telephone customers e911 service," he said, "and this legislation ensures that cable can continue to offer this important service in the same manner as all competitive voice providers. We also applaud the subcommittee for approving the 'Broadband Census of America Act of 2007.'  Cable's broadband service is currently available to 94% of all U.S. households. However, improved data about the availability and speed of all broadband offerings will help to accomplish the important goal of further promoting ubiquitous broadband availability for all Americans."