Even as Congress ponders whether to close up certain competitive aspects of the '96 Telecom Act, it is eyeing a bill bent on enforcing some of the same issues.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, spoke yesterday on HR 1765 (the Upton Bill), which allows increases in certain FCC enforcement penalties for violations of the Communications Act of 1934.

Noting the Act's role in opening telephone and long-distance service to competition, "Especially as the House moves forward with HR 1542 … enforcement of the rules governing telephone services and the underlying telephone infrastructure become even more important," he says in a statement. "Deregulation of broadband services needs to be coupled with strong enforcement of regulations concerning telephone services."

The Internet Freedom bill opponents call the Upton bill's provisions for increased fines "paltry and (opponents) compare them to annual revenues of the Bell operating companies," he adds, calling the argument "disingenuous at best."

Opponents have said million-dollar fines are well absorbed by billion dollar revenues. Tauzin says the Upton bill would increase penalties tenfold for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, albeit with a cap.

He argues talk that the bill is moot because the Internet Freedom bill "deregulates everything and therefore, there are no regulations left to enforce."

The Internet bill applies to broadband, he says, and there will be plenty of rules left over to enforce.