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USTAs Neel Blasts FCC

Washington -- United States Telephone Association president
Roy Neel last week accused the Federal Communications Commission of botching its
obligations under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Neel, at a press conference marking the landmark law's
third anniversary, said the FCC has stumbled for refusing Baby Bell entry into long
distance, for exposing rural and high-cost phone users to future rate shocks and for
enforcing reams of regulations that should be junked.

"The act is sound, but the FCC's interpretation
of it is fundamentally flawed," Neel said, promising to turn to Congress for help if
the FCC does not "get it right."

The Clinton administration, meanwhile, used the anniversary
to declare that the 1996 law has been a qualified success.

"Has it been perfect? No. Has it addressed all of the
problems? No," commerce secretary William M. Daley said.

Neel, a former top aide to Vice President Al Gore, said the
FCC was ignoring Gore's vision of bringing the information superhighway to all

Asked to explain why an agency led by Gore-approved
appointees would shun the views of their political mentor, Neel said, "I think that
commissioners often get captured by career staff. They simply seem to be captured by a
bureaucratic, regulatory mind-set."

Neel said he might urge Congress to force the FCC to allow
the Bells into long distance on a "date certain." Currently, the FCC can't
permit entry unless a Bell has complied with a 14-point competitive checklist and entry
would serve the public interest.

Going to Congress, he said, was not his preference.

"It's in everyone's interest to not have to
go legislate," Neel added.

Daley told reporters that the administration would not
endorse a rewrite of the law.

"I think that we would be very cautious because
we would be worried that it would water it down," he said, adding that it would a
"drastic step" to "throw [the law] out and start over."