Broadband Briefings


Published by NetAction Issue No. 20 June 8, 2001
Repost where appropriate. Copyright and subscription information at end of message.

IN THIS ISSUE:

ACTION ALERT: House Judiciary Vote on Broadband Bill
About Broadband Briefings

ACTION ALERT: House Judiciary Vote on Broadband Bill

(Date of alert: June 8, 2001)

* * * Circulate this alert until June 13, 2001 * * *

Contents of this alert:

  1. Oppose H.R. 1542 (The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001)
  2. Why this bill threatens broadband Internet access
  3. Talking points
  4. Who to contact on the Judiciary Committee
  5. More background

1) Oppose H.R. 1542

NetAction is asking Internet users to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee and urge them to oppose H.R. 1542, the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001. This bill would eliminate a key consumer protection in telecommunications. It poses a threat to the continued deployment of affordable broadband and dial-up Internet services, both of which are crucial to bridging the digital divide. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on June 13 and has the authority to amend the bill to ensure that it won't stop prosecutors from suing the Bells for violations of antitrust law. Call committee members TODAY to urge them to amend the bill to protect consumers from potential antitrust violations. (To check the bill's status, see http://thomas.loc.gov.)

2) Why this bill threatens broadband Internet access

As we reported in Broadband Briefings No. 19, H.R. 1542 would free the four remaining Bell phone monopolies from their obligation to open their networks to competitors. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan. After it was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, it was referred to the House Judiciary Committee at the request of Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, but only for the limited purpose of reviewing provisions related to antitrust enforcement.

Reports on the Judiciary Committee's June 5 hearing on H.R. 1542 indicate that Chairman Sensenbrenner is considering adding an amendment to clarify that state prosecutors would retain authority to prosecute the Bell monopolies for violations of antitrust laws. While this would be a slight improvement, the bill would still be bad for consumers and Internet users.

Despite its name, H.R. 1542 will not ensure Internet freedom or broadband deployment. What it will do is eliminate a key consumer protection that Congress included in the Telecommunications Act of 1996: the requirement that the Bells open their local phone markets to competition before they are allowed into the long distance markets. Although this requirement is the only incentive the Bells have to treat their customers and competitors fairly, H.R. 1542 would waive this requirement for long distance data markets. Rather than ensuring meaningful competition, H.R. 1542 will put the four remaining Bell monopolies in control of the nation's telecommunications and technology infrastructure, threatening the future deployment of both broadband and dial-up Internet access and of competitive telephone service. The result for consumers would be less choice, lower quality service and higher prices for everything from basic phone service to Internet access.

The Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, reportedly declared at the June 5 hearing that he was "slightly stunned by the nerve" of the Bell monopolies' request to change the 1996 Act. Recent developments in the industry underscore just how outrageous this effort is.

According to one recent report, more than three dozen competitive telecommunications companies have gone out of business since last fall, leaving about 500,000 customers without dial tone. Growing numbers of consumers and businesses have also lost Internet access because broadband and dial-up Internet service providers have gone under. Allowing the Bells into long distance data markets now will only exacerbate this trend and strengthen the Bells' control of the industry.

3) Talking points

4) Who to contact on the Judiciary Committee

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on H.R. 1542 on June 13. Calls to committee members are urgently needed. A list of committee members and their office phone numbers is included below, along with the Committee's fax numbers. If you are a constituent, contact your district representative. If your district representative is not on the Judiciary Committee, contact Rep. Sensenbrenner (Republican) or Rep. Conyers (Democrat).

Fax number for Republican committee members: 202-225-7682
Fax number for Democratic committee members: 202-225-7680

Republican MembersPhone Number
James Sensenbrenner, chair 202-225-5101
Henry Hyde 202-225-4561
George Gekas 202-225-4315
Howard Coble 202-225-3065
Lamar Smith 202-225-4236
Elton Gallegly 202-225-5811
Bob Goodlatte 202-225-5431
Steve Chabot 202-225-2216
Bob Barr 202-225-2931
William Jenkins 202-225-6356
Asa Hutchison 202-225-4301
Chris Cannon 202-225-7751
Lindsey Graham 202-225-5301
Spencer Bachus 202-225-4921
Joe Scarborough 202-225-4136
John Hostettler 202-225-4636
Mark Green 202-225-5665
Ric Keller 202-225-2176
Darrell Issa 202-225-3906
Melissa Hart 202-225-2565
Jeff Flake 202-225-2635
Democrats:Number
John Conyers, ranking member 202-225-5126
Barney Frank 202-225-5931
Howard Berman 202-225-4695
Rick Boucher 202-225-3861
Jerrold Nadler 202-225-5635
Robert Scott 202-225-8351
Melvin Watt 202-225-1510
Zoe Lofgren 202-225-3072
Sheila Jackson Lee 202-225-3816
Maxine Waters 202-225-2201
Marty Meehan 202-225-3411
William Delahunt 202-225-3111
Robert Wexler 202-225-3001
Tammy Baldwin 202-225-2906
Anthony Weiner 202-225-6616
Adam Schiff 202-225-4176

5) More background

H.R. 1542 was introduced on April 24, rushed through the Internet and Telecommunications Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and narrowly approved by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 32-23 on May 9. It was subsequently referred to the Judiciary Committee at the request of Rep. Sensenbrenner.

Tauzin's claim that allowing the Bells into long distance data markets before local phone markets are truly competitive is necessary to ensure widespread deployment of broadband, particularly in rural communities, is an old ploy. In fact, it's one the Bells have used before.

In June 2000 NetAction released a comprehensive report describing how the Bells had broken the promises they made to regulators in the 1990s to deploy high-speed fiber optic networks. (See http://www.netaction.org/broadband/bells.) In many instances the promises to deploy fiber optic networks were made in exchange for relief from important pro-consumer regulations. In many states where regulators went along with these schemes, traditional rate-of-return regulation - intended to protect consumers from profit-gouging - was replaced with incentive or price cap regulation.

The new regulatory schemes gave the Bells more profits, ostensibly to be used to build the promised fiber optic networks. But instead of building the networks, the companies simply pocketed the higher profits. This is one of the reasons that the four remaining Bell monopolies - SBC Communications, Verizon, BellSouth and Qwest Communications International - are among the most profitable companies in the nation.

If the Bells had made a good faith effort to meet the conditions spelled out in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we might already have vigorous competition in both broadband and local phone service. But the Bells chose instead to stonewall competition by engaging in protracted legal and regulatory maneuvers, and by lobbying Congress to change the law. Changing the Act now would reward the Bells for failing to follow the rules.

In addition to threatening the future availability of affordable broadband and dial-up Internet access, H.R. 1542 could lead to higher phone bills. The bill broadly preempts state regulators, leaving the states with only limited authority over voice phone services.


About Broadband Briefings

Broadband Briefings is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction to promote policies that encourage rapid and widespread deployment of high-speed Internet access. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policycmakers, and the media about technology policy issues.

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