Telecom bill introduced in Senate

A new telecommunications bill, designed to fix the last virtually incomprehensible one from 1996, has been introduced in the Senate.

Introduced last week by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), it addresses a hodgepodge of issues affecting virtually every form of electronic communications, including television broadcasting. If passed in its current form, it would make it easier for telephone companies to begin offering video services in competition with cable in markets nationwide.

Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has girded for a fight with the House, a body that wants even more freedom for the telco giants. His proposed bill even faces opposition from the Commerce committee's ranking member, Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who is listed as a co-sponsor but said he does not support the legislation as written.

A key concern to Inouye is the bill's approach to network neutrality, the concept that telco and cable companies be prohibited from acting as content gatekeepers on their high-speed Internet systems.

Among broadcast-related issues, the legislation would allow unused broadcast spectrum for the provision of wireless broadband, and it allows use of the controversial broadcast flag, a television anti-piracy technology.

It also addresses some unresolved issues related to the DTV transition, including a provision that allows cable operators to convert a broadcaster's digital signal to analog for subscribers without a digital receiver.

The bill also makes funds available for improving the interoperability of emergency communications and permits municipalities to offer low-cost broadband service.

For the Stevens' bill, initial votes in committee are planned for some time in June. It is unclear when Congress plans to act on the passage.

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