Archive for Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Bill sparing SBC Internet regulation up for consideration

February 12, 2003

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— The House Utilities Committee is scheduled to resume work today on a piece of hotly contested telecommunications legislation that pits SBC, the state's dominant local telephone service provider, against most other industry players.

Critics of House Bill 2019, which would assure SBC is spared state regulation of its high-speed Internet service, DSL, say it would stifle competition and revive, at least in part, the old Bell company's monopoly power.

But SBC claims the bill is needed if it is to invest heavily, expanding its broadband services to portions of the state it currently does not serve.

Committee members gave little indication which way they will land on the bill, leaving the squads of lobbyists predicting a close vote when the bill is ultimately acted upon, probably by Friday. If it passes the committee, the bill will go before the full House.

Tuesday, the committee rejected major changes to the bill but approved four minor amendments, three of which had been suggested by SBC.

Lawrence Republican Tom Sloan offered a substitute version of the bill aimed at pushing broadband service to all Kansans, but his plan was roundly rejected, collecting only four votes besides his own.

Sloan said his alternate bill was caught in the crossfire between the opposing lobbying camps. Lobbyists on the bill outnumber the 21 committee members about two to one.

Also introduced at Tuesday's meeting was a resolution that would keep the bill at bay by creating a task force of industry and government specialists to study the issue of broadband deployment.

Opponents of the bill include Sprint, AT&T, and a coalition that includes WorldNet LLC, which operates telephone service over Sunflower Broadband's infrastructure in Lawrence; WorldNet is a subsidiary of The World Company, which also owns the Lawrence Journal-World.

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