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Tauzin Acknowledges Danger of 'Remonopolization' at Tech Conference

By Duane D. Freese - February 12, 2001 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, DC - "We must do everything we can to insist that remonopolization not happen," House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., said Monday. But Tauzin refused to assure investors that his committee would not "drastically change" the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The declarations came at a congressional public policy forum on Capitol Hill Technology Policy for the 107th Congress sponsored by TechIssues.net and COMDEX.

TechCentralStation Host James Glassman, a broadband panel member with Tauzin, had asked Tauzin whether his bill, H.R. 2420, compromised the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by authorizing the Bells to enter long distance data service before they opened their local loop to competitors. Glassman characterized Tauzin's legislation as a "disaster" for consumers and stated that it would "remove the only incentive the Bells have to open up to competition."

Tauzin insisted that this was not the case, giving the reason that the Telecom Act dealt with voice, and claiming that his bill dealt with data. Tauzin said that he believed voice was itself still a huge incentive for the Bells to cooperate with the Telecom Act, and that giving these phone companies so-called "data relief" wouldn't inhibit competition. Afterwards, Tauzin admitted to TechCentralStation that digitization made data and voice indistinguishable.

Yet, during questioning from another member of the panel, Larry Harris of Teligent, a fixed-wireless company delivering microwave broadband service to business, Tauzin refused to assure the non-Bell companies that had invested $100 billion in broadband based on the 1996 Act that his committee would not drastically change it. The only assurance he would give was that he "will do everything in my committee to incentivize more competition."

Concern over remonopolization of telecommunications by the Bell operating companies dominated the broadband discussion.

Sue Ashdown of the American ISP Association said that high rates and poor service by the monopoly Bells had combined to lock out competition. And H. Russell Frisby Jr. of CompTel, the association of the competitive telephone industry, said that while high-speed servers were now within 50 miles of every home, the Bells had created a bottleneck giving them an advantage in the high-speed digital subscriber line market.

Glassman, in his presentation, pointed out that prices for the DSL lines provided by the Bells were rising as competitors were falling by the wayside. "The CLECs, created under the Act to compete with the monopoly Bell operating companies are in dire straits. As competition declines, prices for broadband DSL rise. Meanwhile, the seven regional Bell companies created by the breakup of AT&T, have become just four companies. Instead of more competition, we have less what I call remonopilization' the last thing Congress envisioned," Glassman said.

Also on the panel was Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who argued that while less regulation was better, the new broadband technologies need to reach low income Americans.
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