title: Bell-izing the Internet?
By: Scott Bradner
For a bill that is titled "The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001," and which says that Internet access services should "not be subject to regulation by the States," House Resolution 1542 (HR 1542) certainly has freaked some pro Internet folk out. The claim has been made that it would kill IP telephony and hand the Internet over to the big bad telephone monopolies. I have a hard time figuring out what all the panic is about but some quite smart people do seem to be panicking.
The proposed legislation ostensibly fixes some problems in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that have let the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) impose regulations that have "impeded the rapid delivery of high-speed Internet access services, thereby reducing customer choice and welfare." Endangering our very welfare! Bad ju ju indeed.
A little more reading of the bill and the picture might be a bit clearer -- the welfare that seems to have been threatened is that of the Bell operating companies. And that is because the big bad FCC has said that the poor baby Bells, the few that are left after the merger-itis attacks of the past few years, cannot offer Internet access service that crosses LATA boundaries (going between phone regions). This seems to have, in the eyes of the bill's authors, "impeded the development of advanced telecommunications services." I do admit to being more than a bit skeptical that a Bell operating company would be develop anything that anyone but they would call advanced telecommunications services. In the past that term has meant things like the star 69 call-back feature. Not, all that earth shaking. But, with their money as a driver they could sure mess up the competitive landscape by offering brain-dead services that could confuse many customers into thinking they were getting real Internet access. Rewarding phone companies for their supposed ability to innovate seems broken to me but does not seem to be the end of the Internet world.
What else might be wrong with this bill? It does try to legally define the Internet, and does not do too bad a job in the attempt. Some people might think that defining the Internet will remove some of the mystery but I'm not one of them.
A number of people have pointed to section 6 of the bill as maybe banning Internet telephony. I can not tell -- the section is worded in the special language that seems to be endemic to many in Washington - full of words but unclear in actual intent - i.e. lawyer fodder. The surface meaning is that it keeps the Bells from using IP telephony over any new interLATA Internet connections to get around the fact that they cannot offer long distance phone service. That may be in fact what it does mean, if so that would be a good thing. But who can tell what trickery lies in the hearts of the phone company supporters.
disclaimer: Harvard builds lawyers and some of them might like this bill but I did not ask.