Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., has some unwelcome company in his drive to free the regional Bells from restrictions on their data services.
Two rival lawmakers in the House said last week that they would offer competing legislation to Tauzins bill, H.R. 1542, which passed a subcommittee in late April. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, would use antitrust language to attempt to force the Bells to open their local markets to competition and sell broadband data lines at wholesale rates to rivals.
By using the antitrust angle, the bills would fall under the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee, instead of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which Tauzin chairs. Separately, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., insisting that the Judiciary Committee have a chance to hold hearings on and amend Tauzins bill, which would change key elements of the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Such a detour would make it more difficult for the bill to wind up before the full House for a vote, at least in the form favored by the Bells. Before Sensenbrenners letter, H.R. 1542 had been expected to make a quick exit from the full Energy and Commerce Committee this week, and thence to the House floor.
Tauzin has worked hard to avoid having his bill, or any modification of the Telecom Act, fall out of his control. He told reporters after the bill passed the subcommittee that its language had been tailored to prevent such an occurrence, and his spokesman, Ken Johnson, said staff attorneys were examining Sensenbrenners letter to Hastert.
"The Energy and Commerce Committee has clearly been driving this legislation, and we dont intend to give up the wheel," Johnson said.
Some lobbyists said a measure that would offer tax credits to companies that establish broadband data services in rural and inner-city areas might be more likely to pass. Two nearly identical bills with those provisions have been introduced, one in the Senate by Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.V., and one in the House by Rep. Phil English, R-Penn.