Tauzin-Dingell gains House passage

By a vote of 273-157, the House of Representatives
passed a bill Wednesday that would deregulate regional phone companies so that they could build
high-speed fiber networks without having to share them with competitors.

That bill, H.R. 1542, is sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John
Dingell (D-Mich.) and is often referred to by their last names.

In Tauzin's view, Congress or the Federal Communications Commission needs to deregulate the phone companies
to encourage them to fully deploy broadband networks so that they can compete with
cable operators that deliver high-speed cable-modem service.

Although passing Tauzin-Dingell into law would cause the cable industry to
face competition from a huge and newly unfettered opponent, the industry has
remained unopposed to the bill.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association "strongly believes
that marketplace competition is the best way to foster the availability of
broadband services to all Americans," according to an NCTA statement. "Thus, we
have not opposed the Tauzin-Dingell bill, nor advocated that regulatory
conditions be placed on broadband competitors."

That was not the stance of other phone-company competitors, such as long-distance companies and competitive local-exchange carriers.

"We are, of course, disappointed that the House has today passed the
Dingell-Tauzin bill, an unjustifiable and unwarranted giveaway to the Bell
monopolies," AT&T Corp. general counsel Jim Cicconi said. "This
legislation, if it ever became law, would be a public-policy disaster and would
allow the Bells to extend their monopoly control to all forms of telephone
service, as well as DSL [digital subscriber line]."

"The Bells should declare this vote as their victory," Covad Communications Co.'s Jason
Oxman said. "Now is the time to change the dialogue and focus on competition -- the
only true path to ensuring that all Americans can enjoy the benefits of
broadband services."

Although the highly controversial bill finally gained House passage, it met
with stiff opposition along the way.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) attempted to kill it through skillful use of
parliamentary procedure. But Tauzin successfully marshalled his forces to beat
back Markey and win passage.

Still, Tauzin's and Dingell's victory is expected to be short-lived. The bill
faces powerful opponents in the Senate, including Senate Commerce Committee
chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.); that committee's ranking Republican, John
McCain (Ariz.)' Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.)' Sen. Ted Stevens
(R-Alaska)' and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

Hollings has gone so far this week as to call the bill "blasphemy." He held a
press conference Wednesday morning to condemn the bill.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.