House to Consider High-Speed Internet Deployment Act This Week

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - The U.S. House is again scheduled to consider the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act (H.R. 1542), more commonly known as the Tauzin-Dingell Bill, later this week.

The bill is supposed to "provide market incentives for the rapid delivery of advanced telecommunications services by deregulating high-speed data services, Internet backbone services, and Internet access services."

Supporters, including the lead sponsor of the bill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) say millions of people can't get high-speed Internet access because of lack of competition.

"Essentially, these Americans will have no access to the high-speed on-ramps to the Internet, because the current backbone hubs are concentrated in the big cities and high-income urban areas of the country," he said in a press release. "At present, 60% of our States have only 2 or 3 backbone hubs. Several states don't have any backbone hubs at all."

Tauzin says his legislation will place competition between high-speed Internet access delivered over telephone lines and other forms of "broadband" access on a more even footing.

Currently high-speed Internet access over cable lines, wireless connections, or satellite links is not regulated, while state public utility commissions regulate Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) access provided over telephone lines, in a similar manner to other telephone services.

One of the most controversial provisions of the bill, frequently mentioned by opponents, would pit states' rights against free enterprise.

Subsection 232 of H.R. 1542 says that "...neither the (Federal Communications) Commission, nor any State, shall have authority to regulate the rates, charges, terms, or conditions for, or entry into the provision of, any high speed data service, Internet backbone service, or Internet access service..."

Tauzin says the bill, "...frees the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) to 'build out' and offer high speed Internet data and backbone hub services on a level playing field in competition with cable companies and current backbone providers."

But an independent analysis conducted for the American Enterprise Institute claims that, in the long run, the bill would actually increase regulation, by killing competition.

James K. Glassman, resident fellow at AEI, and William H. Lehr, associate director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Internet and Telecoms Convergence Consortium, believe the bill will eventually drive local phone carriers out of business.

"It is highly unlikely that politicians will permit unregulated monopolists to have such power and will thus return telecommunications to strict public-utility regulation," the researchers concluded. "The result for consumers will be less choice, higher prices and poorer quality."

The House was to have considered the bill in mid-December 2001, but it was pulled at the last minute. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said at the time that several members had expressed a desire for more time to study the "complicated, controversial" bill.

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