Tauzin & Dingell Introduce Bill to Speed Broadband Internet Access

(July 5, 1999) Rep. Billy Tauzin and Rep. John Dingell introduced a bill to deregulate some high speed data services on July 1, 1999. This is just one of a growing number of bills designed to speed the deployment of high speed Internet access to the public. Like many other pending bills, it gives regulatory breaks to the local phone companies to spur the deployment of ADSL service.

Related Pages

Summary of Bills Pertaining to Broadband Access.
HR 2420 IH, Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999.
Statement by Rep. Dingell, 7/1/99.

HR 2420 IH, the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999, was introduced on Thursday, July 1, by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) (web site | bio) and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). Rep. Tauzin is the Chairman of the House Commerce Committee's Telecom Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the bill. Rep. Dingell is the Ranking Member of the full Commerce Committee.

The list of 32 initial cosponsors includes members of both parties, but particularly represents Republicans, and members of the Commerce Committee. However, Rep. David Bonior (D-MI), the Minority Whip, is one of the cosponsors. The cosponsors also tend to come from districts which include rural areas where widespread high speed Internet access in the short run will likely be provided by the Regional Bell Operating Companies, such as BellSouth and U S West, via ADSL service over existing phone lines. For example, none of the initial cosponsors represents the Los Angeles/San Diego area or the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area.

The goal of the bill is to speed the deployment of high speed Internet access services, and increase consumer choice of services. Presently, the provision of high speed Internet access by cable companies is largely unregulated, while high speed access via ADSL service on phone lines is heavily affected by telecommunications regulation.

Rep. John

"We want the exponential growth of the Internet to continue unabated," said Rep. Dingell in a press release. "We want to remove outdated remnants of regulation written when we needed to safeguard and promote a different world of telecommunications. Today, those rules do little more than slow down progress. Our legislation is designed to take the speed limits off the Information Superhighway once and for all."

"First, the bill makes sure that Internet service will not become a de facto monopoly for any one provider. As technological convergence allows the cable and telephone wires in every home to deliver virtually the same services to the American people, it makes no sense to treat these wires differently under the law. It grossly distorts the operation of the market by giving one wire an artificial advantage over the other. Our bill protects consumers from a new monopoly in the business of Internet access and guarantees all Americans the freedom to choose the very best service at the lowest possible price."

The bill deals with "high speed data services". The bill defines this as the "packet switched" transmission of information at at least 384 kbps in at least one direction.

 The bill does several things.

The bill is critical of efforts by the FCC in this area. The findings section of the bill states that "the imposition of regulations by the Federal Communications Commission and the States has impeded the rapid delivery of high speed Internet access services to the public ..."

To remedy this finding, the Section 4 of the bill provides that "neither the 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 or Internet access service, or to regulate the facilities used in the provision of either such service."

However, the bill goes on to clarify this broad language with the provision that "Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or affect the authority of any State to regulate voice telephone exchange services, nor affect the rights of cable franchise authorities to establish requirements that are otherwise consistent with this Act."

Section 4 of the bill also adds a new subsection to Section 251 of the Telecom Act of 1996 that provides that the FCC shall not require an ILEC to "provide unbundled access to any network elements used in the provision of any high speed data service ... or offer for resale at wholesale rates any high speed data service."

Also, Section 5 provides that each ILEC has the duty to provide:

Two of the Regional Bell Operating Companies, BellSouth and U S West, immediately praised the bill.

"This bill would give consumers a meaningful choice of high-speed Internet access providers by finally putting the local telephone industry on an equal footing with the nation's cable giants, many of which will soon be controlled by AT&T," said David Markey, BellSouth VP for Governmental Affairs, in a press release.

Markey continued: "What most Americans want from their Internet providers is speed - faster connections to the World Wide Web. Cable companies are free to provide an answer to this need without federal regulation. Telephone companies are not. The regulations being imposed on local telephone companies will result in more costs and fewer customers served. There is no good public policy reason to regulate the advanced services of local telephone networks under these competitive circumstances."

BellSouth's Markey also stated that "We commend Reps. Tauzin and Dingell and their original co-sponsors for introducing this major piece of legislation, which BellSouth heartily supports. Let's start the broadband race to the home in a way that lets consumers, not the government, pick the winners."

Solomon Trujillo, Chairman and CEO of U S WEST, was similarly enthusiastic.

"Representatives Billy Tauzin and John Dingell should be praised for their timely action on an important national issue," Trujillo said in a press release. "I am convinced this powerful, bipartisan duo means business, and they are going about it the right way.

"This new legislation offers further proof that data deregulation is a bipartisan issue with enough momentum for Congressional action this year," Trujillo said. "Its sponsors are showing the sort of leadership this nation needs to keep the Internet free of regulation and to extend the benefits of competition in telecommunications to more Americans."

In contrast, Harris Miller, President of Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), criticized the bill. "ITAA strongly supports Representatives Tauzin and Dingell's objective of encouraging widespread, timely broadband deployment,” said Harris Miller in a press release. “However this important goal is best served by encouraging healthy competition from a diversity of competitors. ITAA believes that it is premature to give incumbent local telephone companies access to new markets when they have not yet complied with the market opening requirements of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. By overturning the carefully balanced structure of the 1996 Act, this bill's approach would give Congress, not the marketplace, responsibility for picking broadband winners and losers."

Decker Angstrom, President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) reacted favorably. He said that "we continue to believe that the best way to foster widespread deployment of these new services to all Americans is to minimize government regulation of Internet services and facilities."