Policy

Markey Hammers Barton Bill

3/28/2006 6:08 AM Eastern

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) Tuesday slammed a new telecommunications bill that would allow phone companies to provide cable-TV service without the consent of local governments.

Markey, in a lengthy statement addressing multiple issues, complained that the bill would allow phone companies to ignore low-income communities and at some point allow cable incumbents to withdraw service from less-affluent areas.

"The legislation … represents an extraordinary rejection of the competitive and universal-service principles that have guided successful telecommunications policy for decades,” said Markey, a top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a veteran of many telecommunications-policy battles.

On Monday, Energy and Commerce chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) unveiled the bill, which is designed to speed phone-company entry into video markets through a national-franchising program supervised by the Federal Communications Commission. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring the measure.

"This bill will produce an explosion of opportunity for American workers, and American consumers will get an array of video services that were unimagined just a few years ago," Barton said. “Current law no longer reflects the technological and competitive reality.”

Markey reached a deal on a bill with Barton a few weeks ago. But Barton had to scuttle the agreement when his GOP rank and file balked at regulatory provisions aimed at incumbent cable operators.

Markey said he was “disappointed” that Barton “decided to walk away” from the agreement.

The Barton bill would allow the FCC to respond to complaints if cable and phone companies have engaged in discriminatory conduct as broadband-access providers, but the agency would be barred from adopting network-neutrality rules.

"The 'network-neutrality' section of the bill represents a body blow to the Internet community. It removes FCC authority to establish any future rules needed to ensure that consumers and competitors can avail themselves of the Internet experience they enjoy today,” Markey said. “In short, it favors the communications colossi at the expense of the public interest.”

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