NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 70 May 2, 2001
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


ACTION ALERT: Bill Threatens Broadband Internet Access
About NetAction Notes

ACTION ALERT: Bill Threatens Broadband Internet Access

(Date of alert: May 2, 2001)

* * * Circulate this alert until May 8, 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 in Congress
  5. More background

1) Oppose H.R. 1542

NetAction is urging Internet users to contact members of the House Commerce Committee and urge them to vote "no" on 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 Energy and Commerce Committee could vote on the bill as early as next week. Call committee members TODAY to urge them to vote "no" on H.R. 1542.

2) Why this bill threatens broadband Internet access

As we reported in Broadband Briefings No. 18, H.R. 1542 would free the four remaining Bell phone monopolies from their obligation to open their networks to competitors. Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who co-authored H.R. 1542 with Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, has put the bill on a fast track to passage in the House.

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. Ludicrous as it sounds, Tauzin claims that this will ensure meaningful competition. But it won't. 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.

3) Talking points

4) Who to contact in Congress

The House Energy and Commerce Committee may be voting on H.E. 1542 as early as next week. Calls to committee members are urgently needed. A list of committee members and their office phone numbers is included below.

Republican MembersPhone Number
W. J. "Billy" Tauzin, Chairman 202-225-4031
Michael Bilirakis, Florida 202-225-5755
Joe Barton, Texas 202-225-2002
Fred Upton, Michigan 202-225-3761
Cliff Steans, Florida 202-225-5744
Paul E. Gillmor, Ohio 202-225-6405
James C. Greenwood, Pennsylvania 202-225-4276
Christopher Cox, California 202-225-5611
Nathan Deal, Georgia 202-225-5211
Steve Largent, Oklahoma 202-225-2211
Richard Burr, North Carolina, Vice Chairman 202-225-2071
Ed Whitfield, Kentucky 202-225-3115
Greg Ganske, Iowa 202-225-4426
Charlie Norwood, Georgia 202-225-4101
Barbara Cubin, Wyoming 202-225-2311
John Shimkus, Illinois 202-225-5271
Heather Wilson, New Mexico 202-225-6316
John B. Shadegg, Arizona 202-225-3361
Charles "Chip" Pickering, Mississippi 202-225-5031
Vito Fossella, New York 202-225-3371
Roy Blunt, Missouri 202-225-6536
Thomas Davis, Virginia 202-225-1492
Ed Bryant, Tennessee 202-225-2811
Robert Ehrlich, Maryland 202-225-3061
Steve Buyer, Indiana 202-225-5037
George Radanovich, California 202-225-4540
Charles F. Bass, New Hampshire 202-225-5206
Joseph Pitts, Pennsylvania 202-225-2411
Mary Bono, California 202-225-5330
Greg Walden, Oregon 202-225-6730
Lee Terry, Nebraska 202-225-4155
John D. Dingell, Ranking Member 202-225-4071
Henry A. Waxman, California 202-225-3976
Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts 202-225-2836
Ralph M. Hall, Texas 202-225-6673
Rich Boucher, Virginia 202-225-3861
Edolphus Towns, New York 202-225-5936
Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey 202-225-4671
Sherrod Brown, Ohio 202-225-3401
Bart Gordon, Tennessee 202-225-4231
Peter Deutsch, Florida 202-225-7931
Bobby L. Rush, Illinois 202-225-4372
Anna. G. Eshoo, California 202-225-8104
Bart Stupak, Michigan 202-225-4735
Eliot L. Engel, New York 202-225-2464
Tom Sawyer, Ohio 202-225-5231
Albert R. Wynn, Maryland 202-225-8699
Gene Green, Texas 202-225-1688
Karen McCarthy, Missouri 202-225-4535
Ted Strickland, Ohio 202-225-5705
Diana DeGette, Colorado 202-225-4431
Tom Barrett, Wisconsin 202-225-3571
Bill Luther, Minnesota 202-225-2271
Lois Capps, California 202-225-3601
Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania 202-225-2135
Chris John, Louisiana 202-225-2031
Jane Harman, California 202-225-8220

5) More background

H.R. 1542 was introduced on Tuesday, April 24, was the subject of a hearing on Wednesday, April 25, and was approved on Thursday, April 26, by a 19-14 vote of the Internet and Telecommunications Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The full Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to hear the bill next week.

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 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.

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