State Journal-Register

May 23, 2001

ICC member urges congressional panel to keep heat on regional Bells 


WASHINGTON - Illinois Commerce Commissioner Terry Harvill Tuesday jumped into the congressional fray over deregulation of "broadband" Internet service, urging a U.S. House panel to keep the heat on regional Bells to open their local markets to competition.

Harvill cited the ICC's difficulties in getting Ameritech to comply with its orders to allow competitors more access to high-speed Internet connections known as digital subscriber lines (DSL) during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

"It was litigation and delay," said Harvill of the response from Ameritech, which has dropped its plans to expand high-speed connections into central Illinois as a result of the dispute.

To date, the congressional debate has focused on a bill by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., which is supported by the regional Bell companies.

Supporters say it would speed the development of broadband Internet by allowing the Bells to transmit computer data over long distances without first showing they've opened their local systems to competition - as required in the landmark 1996 telecommunications act.

The Tauzin-Dingell bill passed Tauzin's committee, 32-23, earlier this month. But a turf battle erupted and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, decided to allow the Judiciary Committee to review the bill as well.

With its focus on antitrust issues, the House Judiciary Committee is seen as less friendly with the Bell companies than Energy and Commerce. However, House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., denied Tuesday that he's made up his mind about which of several legislative proposals would work.

His committee's first hearing focused on bills introduced by senior Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Rep. Christopher Cannon, R-Utah. They would prevent the regional Bell companies from entering the long-distance market for either data or voice transmissions until its share of local phone markets drop below 85 percent.

Bill Barr, executive vice president of Verizon, opposed the Conyers and Cannon proposals, saying they "represent bad antitrust policy and bad economic policy for this country."

But Harvill supported the Conyers and Cannon bills, contending they would maintain the market-opening requirements of the 1996 telecommunications act, while offering incentives for advanced services.