Fearing that Congress may soon consider an Internet services bill initiated by the Bell Operating Companies, competing telecommunications carriers and lawmakers opposed to the measure today urged congressional leadership not to bring it up for a vote.
Known as the Tauzin/Dingell bill, after its sponsors Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and John Dingell, D-Mich., the legislation would allow the Bells to offer long-distance broadband access services without first demonstrating that their local markets are open to competition. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated that before the incumbent local telephone companies could get into the long-distance market, they must first meet a list of competitive requirements established by the Federal Communications Commission.
The bills opponents hope not only to quell any possibility of its passage, but also to demonstrate quickly to the financial community that the measure stands no chance of future momentum. It is not at all certain that the measure would pass in the House of Representatives if voted today, and it is even less certain that there would be sufficient support for a Senate counterpart, but opponents worry that continued discussion of its potential will only compound the financial difficulties faced by competing carriers as investors await an outcome.
"With this bill hanging around, it holds a hammer over the heads of these [competitive local exchange carrier] companies," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "The bill has a stifling effect on the market. We wont go home until we make sure this effort has just gone away."
According to the Association for Local Telecommunications Services, which represents CLECs, the legislation would put 150 competitive carriers out of business, costing at least 77,000 jobs and devaluing $56 billion in network infrastructure.
"We put over a billion dollars in the ground and in switching equipment," said George Schmitt, chairman and acting CEO of e.spire Communications in Herndon, Va. "Investors are not stupid. They know that this bill would devastate the [CLEC] industry."
The bills longtime advocates, however, argue the opposite point, maintaining that the measure is key to stimulating the economy in these tough times. "The CLEC industry is in trouble, and we would contend that thats exactly why we need this broadband legislation," said Saralee Boteler, spokeswoman for SBC Communications Inc. "Its outrageous to now attempt to blame capital market decisions."
For many lawmakers, however, it is untimely, at best, to spend time voting on this latest skirmish in the ongoing age-old battle between the Bell companies in the midst of the terrorism crisis and looming recession. "Why even engage in this debate when we have so many other things to do in this Congress before we adjourn?" said Eshoo.