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A key lawmaker wants an opportunity to amend legislation that would deregulate the Baby Bells when they offer high-speed Net or long-distance services. Opponents of a fast-moving congressional proposal to free the Baby Bells from restrictions on broadband and long-distance service offerings slowed the bill’s momentum Tuesday with a bit of legislative maneuvering. On Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., blasted the proposal in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and demanded that Hastert allow the committee to amend the bill to make it more to his liking. The bill was approved 19-14 by the telecommunications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week and is headed for a vote by the full committee soon. Commerce committee Chairman Bill Tauzin, R-La., and ranking Democrat John Dingell of Michigan are the bill’s authors and staunchest supporters. The bill has already kicked off a fierce lobbying battle between the Bells — SBC, Verizon, BellSouth and Qwest — and their competitors, including AT&T, WorldCom and Sprint. Analysts say the proposal, if enacted, could spell the death knell for many smaller carriers already struggling from the stock market’s plunge. Sensenbrenner said the bill “seeks to allow the [Bell companies] to leverage their monopoly control of the local exchange to control the broadband future,” adding that provisions of the plan would “eliminate even basic antifraud protections as well as many other consumer protection statutes.” Noting that his committee worked on the 1996 Telecommunications Act and on many previous attempts to reform the industry, Sensenbrenner asked Hastert to send the bill to the Judiciary Committee after Tauzin’s committee finished its consideration. That would give Sensenbrenner and other opponents a chance to make substantial amendments that could blunt the bill’s pro-Bell tilt. Tauzin, a staunch ally of the Bells, plans to fight Sensenbrenner’s power grab, according to spokesman Ken Johnson. Tauzin’s committee “is clearly driving this legislation and we don’t intend to give up the wheel without a fight,” Johnson said. “This bill, pure and simple, is about telecom policy.” Under current laws, the Bells cannot offer long-distance service for voice or data traffic unless they open their local networks for use by competitors. The Bells are required to lease parts of their networks, including equipment used to offer high-speed Internet service, to competitors. Tauzin’s bill would allow the Bells to offer long-distance data service immediately and would eliminate the leasing requirement on equipment used to provide broadband service. The Bells argue that they have no monopoly over data services or broadband offerings. And other companies offering such services, particularly cable operators, face none of the restrictions that limit the Bells, they say. Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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