New telecom bill in the works

June 19, 2005

Sen. John Ensign, (R-NV), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is drafting a comprehensive deregulatory telecom reform bill that he plans to introduce in mid-July, the National Journal reported last week.

Ensign is asserting himself on telecom issues with the approval of Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, (R-AK). Ensign chairs the Commerce Committee’s Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness Subcommittee, whose ranking member is Sen. John Kerry, (D-MA).

Ensign has been given the responsibility to update several aspects of the 1996 Telecommunications Act — the legislation that governed the original DTV transition among many other communications activities.

Among the key changes, the report said, is a provision that would permit the Bell companies — which are moving aggressively into the pay-TV business to compete with cable — to secure nationwide franchises in lieu of securing tens of thousands of local licenses or statewide agreements. Stevens recently said he supports that concept, which has emerged as a major issue as Congress prepares to revisit the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Franchising issues have delayed the video deployments of SBC Communications and Verizon Communications. The cable industry also has moved towards embracing nationwide franchises, and cable would likely be eligible for nationwide agreements under the measure, a congressional source suggested in the report.

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