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Scrambling to deregulate high-speed data

Long distance and local phone companies continued to take shots at each other Wednesday, while House staffers huddled to try and get compromises lined up before a full House Energy and Commerce Committee vote next week on a bill that would allow incumbent phone companies to provide deregulated high-speed data services.

During a press conference, the United States Telecom Association continued to press the view of its 1,200 members-including some facilities-based competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs)-that it is only fair to allow incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to compete on even footing with cable companies, whose broadband networks are completely unregulated.

During a Senate hearing later in the day, Cox Communications CEO James Robbins, AT&T President David Dorman and Time Warner Telecom President Larissa Herda said the Telecommunications Act of 1996 should be left in place, although they said Congress should strengthen enforcement provisions in the bill that require the ILECs to unbundle their local loops and share their lines with competitors.

Although the National Cable and Telecommunications Association has officially taken a neutral position on the bill, all the association's members aren't necessarily lining up behind that position. Cox Communications CEO James Robbins on Wednesday told the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee that "Congress . should resist urgings to revisit the delicate balance achieved in the 1996 Act" because regulatory uncertainly would keep new facilities-based competitive local exchange carriers, such as Cox's local phone offerings, from entering the market. And top MSO AT&T Corp. is vigorously opposing the bill.
- Paige Albiniak