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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Put Another Log on the Fire: Another Telecom Act Rewrite Bill

Yesterday Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Stevens circulated a wide ranging draft telecom overhaul bill. It joins several other measures under consideration on Capitol Hill, all of which are primarily aimed at giving the Bell companies video franchising relief (because, you know, the Bells are all about competing these days). In addition to streamlining Bell video entry by forcing local franchising authorities to act upon franchise applications within 30 days, the bill addresses a host of other thorny issues:
  • universal service: the bill expands the fund by subjecting for the first time cable, VoIP, intrastate, and broadband to USF obligations; creates a $500M rural broadband fund; prevents the FCC from limiting USF support to a single line
  • VoIP interconnection: provides VoIP providers with a right to 251 type interconnection right;
  • net neutrality: the bill essentially punts and requires the FCC to "study" the issue for 5 years and come up with legislative proposals for Congressional consideration;
  • municipal broadband: the bill precludes state legislatures and cities from adopting measures to prevent cities from deploying their own broadband networks;
  • white spaces: requires the FCC to complete its rulemaking and allow unlicensed devices to use available spectrum not used by broadcasters;
  • digital tv: requires the FCC and the industry conduct consumer outreach and education, including labeling sets that are not digital and permits cable operators to transmit analog signal for any broadcast station requesting to ensure that broadcast signals are available to cable subscribers with analog TVs.

Given the competing proposals on the Hill and the truncated session this election year, the odds of this bill passing in anything approaching this form are very uncertain.


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