The Illinois legislature passed a telecom bill that proponents call a "sweeping reform," detailing the duties of ILECs in the state and penalties for "anti-competitive conduct." Gov. George H. Ryan is expected to sign the bill tomorrow.

The thus-far unnamed bill is not a response to what's going on in Washington with the Tauzin-Dingell bill, but a response to what the state has undergone, such as service problems for which Ameritech has been assessed fines, says Covad Communications Group's ILEC relations spokeswoman Melia Carter, who worked on the Illinois legislation. She says the legislation could be a model for the federal level. Language in the Federal '96 Telecom Act was taken from a similar act in Illinois, she says.

Covad has been a vocal opponent of the Tauzin-Dingell bill, which recently was sent to the House Rules Committee in Washington with a negative referral from the Judiciary Committee.

The Illinois bill would prohibit the Bells from refusing to allow competitors access to the Bells' networks, Covad says in a statement. Components include a mandate that Ameritech and Verizon deploy advanced services, including high-speed Internet access, to 80 percent of their markets by 2005. It also requires Ameritech to provide DSL lines to competitors within five business days and within one business day for DSL services sharing phone lines.

Ameritech legislative spokesman Michael King says the bill, which passed last month, contains "pro-rated credits" that are less than what the company has paid voluntarily for the last year. Ameritech and SBC Communications have been assessed fines from the FCC recently over the company's service commitments. King says the company spends $10 million to $12 million a year in community programs.

Penalties for noncompliance include $250,000 per violation, per day.

The bill also increases the Illinois Commerce Commission's enforcement authority, allowing it to award damages, attorneys' fees and costs to carriers found to be recipients of violations.

ICC Commissioner Terry Harvill testified to the Judiciary Committee in May and urged the committee to allow the '96 Telecom Act to stand.

"Any major modification to the competitive safeguards found in the Act would diminish the vital incentives for the ILECs to meet their obligations to open local markets; equally important, major modification would also jeopardize the ability of providers to offer competition to the ILECs," he said then.

Rep. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, is "very involved in what's going on," and is from Illinois, Carter notes. He hasn't, however, "vocalized where he stands on (the) issue."

King says last month's passage is an update of 16-year-old state telecom laws. This legislation, he adds, isn't a "referendum" on federal broadband legislation.