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Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2003

SBC presses deregulation measure

March 20, 2003

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— Telephone giant SBC on Wednesday tried to revive legislation to deregulate its high-speed Internet service, but it received a mixed welcome from lawmakers who struggled over the issue earlier in the session before rejecting it.

SBC-Kansas President Randy Tomlin said the company's newest offer was in response to demands from lawmakers that SBC make a commitment to provide broadband service to rural Kansas. Under the new proposal, Tomlin said, SBC would make broadband available in 72 communities statewide.

"This is an opportunity to come back and be responsive," Tomlin said during a meeting before members of the House Utilities and Senate Commerce committees.

State Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, a retired Southwestern Bell employee, welcomed the initiative, saying that perhaps the offer could be used as a starting point for more work on the bill.

But opponents said SBC's offer was nothing more than window-dressing on its previous proposal.

"I'm appalled," said state Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, and chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee. "It's time for Bell to think about what's best for Kansas."

Brownlee said small cable and rural telephone companies throughout Kansas were making broadband available in their areas, "but the one Fortune 50 company in our state is not doing it."

Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, chairman of the House Utilities Committee, declined to say what he thought of the new version, but said he had concerns about how SBC was proceeding.

Holmes said closed-door meetings had taken place in recent days to revive the bill and that he wanted no part of any back-room decision making. Holmes' committee rejected SBC's legislation Feb. 14 in an 11-9 vote after more than 20 hours of testimony.

SBC's opponents -- Sprint, AT&T, Everest Communications and state utility regulators -- lined up in opposition to the new proposal, saying it would kill competition and could result in higher Internet access rates paid by consumers. WorldNet LLC, a subsidiary of the company which also owns the Journal-World, is among the opponents of SBC's proposed legislation. WorldNet operates telephone service over Sunflower Broadband's infrastructure in Lawrence.

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