Call it what you want, but the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee 32-23 yesterday, with substitute amendments, and will now go to the House floor.
"It's still the Broadband Derailment Act of 2001," said CompTel President H. Russell Frisby Jr. in a statement.
The bill is a hotly contested bill that relieves Bell requirements imposed by the Telecom Act of 1996.
"This bill provides the right amount of deregulation for broadband services. It rejects the application of antiquated telephone rules to a new market like broadband. And it seeks to maximize investment and innovation in new facilities," Rep. Bill Tauzin (R-La.) noted yesterday in a statement.
But yesterday, the committee amended some of the definitions and expanded the deregulatory provisions of the act, Frisby told CEDaily. Internet backbone now include voice and local connectivity, he says, and Internet access now includes anything "dealing with or touching the Internet." The changes effectively give the Bells a monopoly, he says, and permits them to deny access to "everything."
A 27-27 split — ties are losses in the House — on an amendment dubbed the Luther-Wilson would have required the Bells to open to competition any of the networks or facilities they build for high-speed access to a residence. The bill's proponents said it would regulate data services, effectively opposing Tauzin-Dingell's intent. But the tie means "half the members did not want to deregulate the Bells," Covad Communications Senior Counsel Jason Oxman told CEDaily, adding that when Tauzin brings the bill to a full House, he'll have to demonstrate he has support and the tie suggests there's not a lot of that.
Another amendment required the Bells to deploy DSL capability in all of their central offices within five years, Oxman notes. "It's impossible to predict what will happen in the next five years," he says. The amendment doesn't say anything about Bell obligations to provide high-speed service if they sell their rural exchanges, which they've shown a pattern of doing, nor does it do anything to ensure access when it's needed, "which is now," he adds.
The chair of the judiciary committee has asked for the bill to be referred to his group, although that decision is still forthcoming, Oxman says. If it happens, it will undergo further amendments. If it doesn't, it will go to the House floor and then the Senate.
Frisby says it's unclear what will happen when he bill goes to the House, but Congress has demonstrated it's concerned about the bill's impact.
Oxman says Covad is "hopeful that Congress will do the right thing and preserve competition. … (It's become) less Bell friendly as it's gone through the steps."
SBC Communications did not return phone calls by CEDaily deadlines.