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A coalition of carriers, regulators and trade groups rally against legislation that would deregulate the regional telcos. An array of more than a dozen trade groups announced their opposition Tuesday to a legislative proposal that would weaken limits on the Baby Bells by allowing them to offer national data-trafficking service for the first time. The announcement kicked off what is expected to be a fierce lobbying battle between the Bells — SBC, Verizon, BellSouth and Qwest — and their competitors, including AT&T, WorldCom and Sprint. The Baby Bells have been barred from offering long-distance service within their regions, though they can apply to provide service on a state-by-state basis if they open their local networks to competition. The proposal, offered by Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., would immediately lift the long-distance ban for all Internet and data traffic. “It declares war on America’s consumers and will undermine this nation’s economy,” said Russell Frisby, president of the Competitive Telecommunications Association, a trade group of carriers trying to compete with the Bells. Tauzin and Dingell are calling their bill the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, but Frisby said it ought to be named the Broadband Derailment Act. Both sides will have their say Wednesday during a House Commerce Committee hearing on the Tauzin-Dingell bill. The committee’s telecommunications subcommittee starts the formal legislative process on Thursday by considering amendments and then moving the proposal to the full committee. Passage in the House is considered likely, but the proposal’s prospects in the Senate remain murky. Influential senators, including Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, are expected to oppose the bill if it reaches the Senate. Since the Bells were created in the 1984 breakup of AT&T, they have been barred from offering long-distance telephone service within their regions. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the door for the Bells to get into the long-distance business on a state-by-state basis if they opened their local networks to competitors. The Bells have chaffed at the limits, first challenging them in court and then complaining to Congress. The Federal Communications Commission has found that the Bells have sufficiently opened their networks in only five states so far. Although the Tauzin-Dingell bill would lift the long-distance ban for data and Internet traffic, the Bells still would have to open their networks if they wanted to offer traditional voice long-distance. The Bells also would be exempted from leasing parts of their network used to provide high-speed Internet service to competitors, as they are now required to do under the 1996 act. A broad array of groups denounced that approach at a press conference Tuesday, arguing that handing the Bells free access to the data market would dramatically reduce their incentive to open their networks. Data traffic is growing substantially faster than voice traffic, and some companies have even moved their voice traffic onto Internet Protocol technology that resembles data traffic. Giving the Bells access to the data long-distance market would create “a loophole so big you couldn’t just drive a Mack truck through it, you could drive a whole convoy,” said Ernest Kelly, president of the Association of Communications Enterprises, another trade group of smaller carriers. Others announcing their opposition Tuesday included the Information Technology Association of America, representing large and small high-tech firms; the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners, representing state utilities regulators; and several trade groups representing Internet service providers. A group representing large business telecom customers, and a representative of state consumer advocates also said they would oppose the bill. The Bells denied that the proposal would eliminate their incentives to open their networks and said that they were requesting deregulation to gain parity with other carriers and cable companies not subject to the 1996 Telecom Act’s long-distance limitation. “This bill has nothing to do with pro-competitive provisions of the Telecom Act,” SBC said in a statement. “In fact, local phone companies would still be required to comply with all the market-opening provisions contained in the act. This bill addresses the need to spur deployment and promote competition for high-speed Internet services.” The United States Telecom Association, the Bells’ own trade group, said Tuesday’s press conference was a front for AT&T. “It’s time for Congress to stop protecting AT&T from competition and allow consumers to benefit from a fully competitive market for high-speed Internet service,” said Gary Lytle, the group’s interim president. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Change for the Sake of Change at the FCC Dawn of the Big Bells Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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