Don't Expect Telecom Reform In '05, VON Panelists Say - InformationWeek

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Don't Expect Telecom Reform In '05, VON Panelists Say

According to Beltway insiders, conflicts between politicians -- even those in the same party -- may further delay the already complicated process of drafting new telecom legislation.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Waiting for telecom regulation reform in 2005? Don't hold your breath.

That was the warning from several panelists participating in Monday's telecom regulatory track at the Spring VON 2005 show here at the San Jose Convention Center. According to Beltway insiders, conflicts between politicians -- even those in the same party -- may further delay the already complicated process of drafting new telecom legislation.

"I don't see it coming in this Congress, which means in the next two years," said Jason Mahler, chief of staff for California Democratic congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who is on the House Energy and Commerce committee.

While acknowledging that most industry and government telecom insiders agree that the current statutes are ineffective for the digital world of 2005, Mahler said conflicts between new Senate Commerce committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), his counterpart at the House Energy and Commerce committee, will require time to resolve, stalling any congress-wide agreement.

"Chairman Barton is from Mars and Stevens is from Venus," quipped Mahler.

But Blair Levin, a former FCC chief of staff under Reed Hundt and now a telecom analyst for Legg Mason, said the Republican's don't have a corner on the market for political telecom inaction.

"We just don't have political leadership that wants to focus [on telecom issues]," said Levin . "And it's a bipartisan problem."

But Mike O'Rielly, senior legislative assistant for Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), said something still might happen in 2005.

"Both houses are going to tackle [telecom legislation] this year," O'Rielly predicted. "There are a number of decisions that need to be made."

While O'Rielly said his boss was still figuring out how to rejigger his failed attempt to pass VoIP legislation last year, he did say that any new bill would probably be more far-reaching, including more IP communications components -- and therefore, taking longer to come to life. Still, he said Congressional action would likely move quicker than any reform from the FCC, which will most likely have its roster revamped in the near future.

"If we wait for the [FCC] to take action, that's like waiting for Christmas that's a couple years away," O'Rielly said. "The answer to [telecom reform] questions are needed in the marketplace."

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