Congress mulls making nips and tucks to comm law

Congress mulls making tips and tucks to comm law

Although the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has yet to fulfill all of its goals for competition and access, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission are preparing to broaden it.

Greg Rothschild said his boss, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) 'thinks it's time to review the 1996 act because it doesn't apply to advances like digital subscriber line and voice over IP and E-911.' Dingell is the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Under the Enhanced 911 rule, FCC is requiring wireless carriers to provide location data for emergency calls made using cellular telephones.

Other Capitol Hill and FCC officials speaking yesterday at the Comnet conference in Washington agreed that the telecom law needs a face-lift.

Lisa Zaina, senior legal adviser to FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, said it's 'not a brilliant idea to jam new technology into old regulatory constructs.'

States should be the federal government's partners in deciding, for example, whether voice over IP should be regulated like wireline phone services, she said. 'Clarity, clarity and more clarity about how to treat these services' is what FCC needs from Congress, Zaina said.

Daniel Gonzalez, legal assistant to FCC commissioner Kevin Martin, said VOIP 'is becoming a substitute for traditional telephony; imagine trying to require E-911 on the Xbox' gaming system from Microsoft Corp., which is capable of telephony.

Rothschild said Congress is responsible for deciding how to deal with technological advances, regardless of whether they involve fiber or coaxial cable, wireless or wireline services.

He suggested lumping topologies together, based on their bandwidth, for regulatory purposes. By the time legislation is passed, it might involve 100-Mbps public networks, he said, and IEEE 802.11b WiFi 'is part of the answer.'

New telecom legislation is probably inevitable, said William Bailey, senior counsel to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, because 'there's so much money at stake.'

(Posted 5 p.m. Jan. 28 and updated 7:34 a.m. Jan. 29)

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