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House unit mulls long-distance data

Having won referral from House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the House Judiciary Committee in June will hold its own hearing on a bill that would allow incumbent phone companies to offer long-distance high-speed data services.

Incumbent phone companies currently are not allowed to offer any long-distance services until they prove to the FCC that they have opened up their local markets to competition. Many members of the Judiciary Committee oppose the bill, which was introduced by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.), and are trying several legislative tactics to derail it.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a pair of bills introduced by two opponents, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah). House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said he didn't yet have a position on the issue but still was "gathering evidence."

At the hearing, Bill Barr, executive vice president for Verizon, opposed Conyers' and Cannon's bills. Barr doesn't like a provision in one bill that would require incumbent telephone companies to serve less than 85% of the local resident and business phone market before allowing them to enter long-distance data. That would encourage long-distance companies to stay out of local phone service, thus maintaining local phone monopolies and never letting incumbent phone companies into new data markets. - Paige Albiniak