Key Senator Launches New Broadband Bill

A powerful senator today is introducing legislation that he said would bring high-speed Internet access
to rural and "underserved" areas, fortifying his ideological bunker for a showdown between two equally
influential and diametrically opposed telecommunications camps.

By Robert MacMillan, Newsbytes

Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings’ (D-S.C.) "Broadband Telecommunications Act
of 2002" would accelerate high-speed Internet access deployment throughout the U.S. through existing
telephone taxes and government funding, rather than deregulate the current telecom broadband industry.

According to a Hollings staffer, the bill would use telephone
excise tax revenues to offer low-interest loans for rural
broadband buildout, and would authorize the National
Institute of Standards and Technology to devise the best ways
to bring broadband to the rest of the nation.

The bill also would authorize funding for wireless broadband
technologies in rural and underserved areas, and promote
investment in super-fast broadband technology projects
underway at NIST, the National Telecommunications and
Information Administration, universities and the National
Science Board.

Hollings spokesman Andy Davis said that the bill tackles two
major problems: how to make broadband widely available
throughout the U.S., and how to develop applications that
would drive people to use the technology.

The senator in a letter sent to colleagues earlier today said
that 80 percent to 85 percent of the nation can access
broadband technology, but only 10 percent to 12 percent do
so, mainly because there are not enough compelling reasons
to sign on for incrementally faster Internet access.

"People need must-have applications," Davis said, noting that the bill

also funds public and private studies on high-speed applications that are practical and useful in everyday life.

Hollings’ legislation, along with another bill, S. 1364 that he unveiled in August 2001, directly opposes efforts by other Congress
members to widen broadband’s reach by allowing Baby Bells and other "incumbent" telecom companies to offer long-distance
data service outside of their traditional fenced-in markets without having to make their facilities and networks available to

Verizon Spokesman Bob Bishop said that the company has not yet seen the bill, and declined to comment on it. The company,
and other Baby Bells, oppose S. 1364, since it keeps them under the status quo of the current regulatory regime.

The Association of Local Telecommunications Services (ALTS), which supports maintaining regulations on the Baby Bells, said
that Hollings’ new bill ensures "that rural Americans can receive high-speed services and have a choice of competitive carriers."

ALTS President John Windhausen also said that the bill is "the right kind of approach to broadband deployment," whether or not
his association’s member companies receive any of the proposed handouts.

While Baby Bells and other incumbent telecom companies want the Federal Communications Commission to ease the rules that
govern how they offer high-speed service, Hollings believes that current laws, which require Baby Bells to open up their networks
to local competitors before taking the long-distance leap, are adequate.

Today’s bill and the legislation introduced last August will vie for Senate approval at the expense of several other bills
introduced by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Don Nickles (R-Okla), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Reps. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.)
and John Dingell (D-Mich.).

Breaux’ and Nickles’ legislation purportedly promotes regulatory parity that would make all broadband providers subject to the
same regulations, or no regulations at all. This move worries Bell opponents because it could strip away regulatory requirements
on incumbent local phone companies to make it equally easy for them to deploy DSL service as it is for cable companies to
provide their own Internet access.

The Brownback bill, as well as the Tauzin-Dingell bill, also scratch the regulatory requirements in the name of increased

Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), who supports the Tauzin-Dingell bill, said that Hollings’ legislation is "a government approach to
a problem that free enterprise could solve."

"I was interested to see him say that the Breaux bill … was a Trojan Horse. Myresponse would be that his bill’s a red herring,"
Goodlatte added. "It avoids the issues and tries to lead people away from confronting the fact that we are wasting huge
available resources by keeping some of the major competitors in that market from being able to fairly and fully compete…"

Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said that "We prefer more of a free-market approach toward solving the problem" than what the
Hollings bill offers.

He added that the Hollings bill has its bright side.

"On the one hand, the Hollings bill is a little too regulatory for us, but any broadband bill that will get us into conference with
Tauzin-Dingell, we got to like it a little bit," Johnson said. "There are clear differences between our approaches, but we both
want the same thing, and that’s competition in the marketplace."

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