Copyright 2002 Post-Newsweek Business Information, Inc.
Two lawmakers who represent the ideological extremes of the broadband policy debate in Congress will face off Wednesday in a Senate hearing on the future of telecommunications regulation.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W. J. "Billy" Tauzin ( R-La.) has agreed to meet with his counterpart Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) next Wednesday, for the first in a series of hearings to examine the state of competition in the telecom industry, a Tauzin spokesman said. Hollings staff members confirmed the meeting.
The chairmen will discuss The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, a bill introduced by Tauzin and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, that would make it easier for the Baby Bells to enter the high-speed voice and data markets nationwide.
The House approved the Tauzin-Dingell bill on Feb. 28 by a vote of 273 to 157, a majority that proponents of the bill claim gives the Senate a mandate to pass the bill.
Hollings has promised to block consideration of the legislation, and believes that the Bells have used their monopoly power to crush competing telecom providers.
Hollings has even proposed his own bill, the Telecommunications Competition Enforcement Act, that would force the Bells to divide their retail and wholesale services into two separate divisions.
The legislation also would give state public utility commissions the power to impose identical fines.
Hollings' bill has garnered no more than two co-sponsors since its introduction last summer. But the senator's resistance to the Tauzin-Dingell bill is the more effective deterrent, as the House-passed measure would have to win approval from his committee before reaching the Senate floor.
Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said his boss was eager to meet with Hollings.
"Billy's anxious to debate the merits of our broadband legislation and he's hopeful of making a convert out of Mr. Hollings," Johnson said.