Telco bill go ahead draws mixed reviews

A wide-ranging telecommunications reform bill approved by a USHouse committee late Wednesday will drive down cable TV prices andincrease demand for broadband services, said supporters of thelegislation.

The Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act(COPE) creates a national franchise process for telecom carriers,such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., which arerolling out television services based on IP (Internet Protocol) incompetition with cable TV. Currently, new providers of cable-likeTV services must get approval in every city where they want toprovide service.

Verizon cheered the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s voteto approve the bill and send it to the full House floor. Thecompany and the United States Telecom Association also applaudedthe committee’s vote to reject an amendment that would haveprohibited broadband providers from blocking or impairing theircustomers’ access to competing Web sites or applications.

The net neutrality amendment, offered by Representative EdMarkey, a Massachusetts Democrat, would have also requiredbroadband providers that set aside bandwidth for services such asIPTV to offer the same bandwidth to competing services. Supportersof net neutrality say that without a strong law, broadbandproviders could block content from competitors, or charge companiesextra for their content to have top priority.

The House should pass the bill and not weigh it down with issuessuch as “mandating government regulation of the Internet,” PeterDavidson, Verizon senior vice president for federal legislativeaffairs, said in a statement.

Net neutrality advocates said they were disappointed in thecommittee’s vote on the Markey amendment. The approved telecom billsays broadband providers should not block or impair competingcontent, but it would allow the U.S. Federal CommunicationsCommission (FCC) to investigate blocking abuses only after thefact, and it would prohibit the FCC from creating new netneutrality rules.

Supporters including Public Knowledge, a consumer group focusedon online rights, said it will continue to fight for a netneutrality law.

“We are disappointed but not surprised that the committee votedto turn over the future of the Internet to the telephone and cableindustry,” Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge’s president, said by e-mail.”Neither of those two sectors contributed to the creativedevelopment of the Internet, and neither is known for innovation.They are known for their desire to control what goes over theirnetworks.”

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has introduced astand-alone net neutrality bill, and two other senators havefloated a second proposal.

The bill, sponsored by committee Chairman Joe Barton, a TexasRepublican, also requires VOIP (voice over IP) providers to offercustomers enhanced 911 emergency dialing service, and it allowsmunicipal governments to offer broadband data and videoservices.

Large broadband providers have fought municipal Wi-Fideployments, but the committee rejected an amendment offered byRepresentative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, which would havegrandfathered in the 14 states that have passed laws outlawingmunicipal broadband services.

Barton doesn’t expect many city governments to offer broadbandservices, but said they should have the opportunity, especially inareas where commercial providers are slow to offer service.

If the full House passes the bill, it would then go to theSenate, where it would go through committee hearings. Congressionalleaders have targeted Oct. 6 as the last day of business for theyear, and Congress will not be in session for most of the month ofAugust.

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