No repeat of single telecom legislative package

After members of both political parties watched months of work disintegrate at the end of last year's Congress, this year's legislative strategy for telecom issues is expected to be different.

Instead of a package of new laws, the new Senate Commerce Committee, now chaired by Daniel Inouye (D-HI), will pursue a series of small, targeted bills.

Last year, Republican chairman Ted Stevens was unsuccessful in pushing a major telecom package through Congress after the bill became embroiled in the net neutrality controversy.

With the Democrats winning the November 2006 elections, the political climate has since changed in Congress. Now, major telcos like AT&T and Verizon and some cable providers, who had previously sought Republican-sponsored deregulatory legislation, are not so hot for legislation from the Democrats.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, is planning hearings on network neutrality, however. Still a hot button issue, it is one that could result in regulation of high-speed Internet services offered by telecom and cable giants.

Markey has a stand-alone neutrality measure in the House, and Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (D-ME) have reintroduced a similar bill in the Senate.

AT&T recently accepted a two-year net neutrality restriction as a condition for FCC approval of its merger with BellSouth. The deal was green lighted in December, and AT&T's acceptance of the temporary mandate has galvanized the pro-neutrality forces.

Meanwhile, AT&T spokeswoman Claudia Jones told the National Journal that despite the condition, the company remains opposed to neutrality regulations, which it considers unnecessary.