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A Step Closer To More High-Speed Internet Services?

Maybe, maybe not. The Tauzin-Dingell bill passed in the House, but its goals face opposition in the Senate.

The U.S. House of Representatives late Wednesday passed a bill to deregulate how the country's local telephone companies provide high-speed Internet access services. The changes included in the bill, if they were to become law, would stimulate deployment of high-speed Internet services, which would add jobs in the telecommunications and other high-tech industries, as well as provide spillover benefits to the economy in general, supporters say.

On a 273-157 vote, the House passed the Tauzin-Dingell bill, sponsored by Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and John Dingell, D-Mich., ending a three-year battle by supporters to win House approval. House approval of the measure is a significant legislative win for local phone companies, even though opposition to the legislation in the Senate means it has virtually no chance of becoming law during this session of Congress.

The legislation reverses regulations imposed on local phone companies--primarily companies such as BellSouth, Qwest Communications International, SBC Communications, and Verizon Communications--that removed their incentives to deploy high-speed services, according to bill supporters and the phone companies. At least half of the households in the United States have access to high-speed Internet services from their local phone companies, cable TV companies, or both, yet less than 10% of households are high-speed subscribers.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has criticized the Tauzin-Dingell bill for giving the phone companies too many opportunities to discriminate against competitors. In the Senate, the committee would have to pass a comparable bill before a full vote by the Senate, and opposition from Hollings ensures that the committee won't pass one.

Says Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications studies at the Cato Institute, a pro-deregulation think tank in Washington, "It's obvious that the bill is not going to go anywhere in the Senate, and in all likelihood it's never going to get to the president's desk."

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