Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Senator Proposes a Broad Rewrite of the Telecom Act

Senator John Ensign (R-NV) proposed a bill that would eliminate the requirement that video service providers obtain a cable franchise agreement in order to provide video service. The legislation seeks to promote inter-modal competition between telcos and cable operators by making it easier for telcos to launch video services.


The proposed Broadband Consumer Choice Act of 2005 would also set federal consumer protection standards, and would assure consumer access to Internet-based phone service.


"We must not allow government regulations to be an anchor on the advance of technology if we want America to lead the world in the information age," said Ensign at a Capitol Hill press conference.


Key provisions of the Broadband Consumer Choice Act of 2005 include:

  • Deregulation: Federal, state and local governments would no longer have the authority to regulate the rates, terms, price or quality of any communications service.


    Federal, state and local governments would no longer have the authority to require any facilities-based communications service provider to provide third parties with access to its facilities.


    Federal, state and local governments would no longer have the authority to regulate the rates, terms and conditions, if any, on which a facilities based provider chooses to provide access to its facilities to a third-part provider.


    The bill would have no effect on Titles IV, V and VII of the Communications Act of 1934.



  • Seamless IP Mobility: The FCC may not take any actions that would impede "seamless mobility," which is defined as "the ability of a consumer to move easily and smoothly between IP-enabled technology platforms, facilities and networks."



  • Access to Content: A consumer may not be denied access to any content provided over facilities used to provide broadband communication services, and a broadband service provider shall not willfully and knowingly block access to such content by a subscriber unless (a) the content is deemed to be illegal, (b) such denial is expressly authorized by Federal or state law, (c) such access is inconsistent with the terms of the service plan, including bandwidth limitations and QoS constraints.



  • Walled Gardens: A broadband communications provider may offer to a consumer a customized content plan through its network and with providers of content, applications and other services, in order to differentiate its offering.



  • Access to Devices: A broadband service provider shall not prevent any person from utilizing equipment and devices in connection with lawful content and applications.



  • Access to Competitive VoIP services: A broadband service provider may not prevent a consumer from using VoIP applications offered by a competitor.



  • Video Services: A video service provider shall not be required to (a) obtain a State or local video franchise, (b) to build its video distribution system in any particular way, (c) to provide leased or common carrier access to any other video service provider.



  • Compensating Local Governments for Video Rights of Way: State or local governments may require a video service provider to pay on an annual basis a reasonable video service fee to compensate such local government for the cost that it incurs in managing the public rights-of-way used by the provider. This fee shall not exceed 5% of gross revenues. Rights-of-way disputes would be resolved by the FCC or by Federal courts.



  • Existing Video Franchises: Existing video franchises would be preempted by this legislation. Cable operators would be treated as video service providers.



  • Competition and Diversity in Video Programming Distribution: The bill would establish safeguards to prevent an MVPD programming vendor which has an attributable interest in an MVPD programming vendor or satellite broadcasting vendor from improperly influencing the decision of such vendor to set unfair prices or conditions for the sale of content to any unaffiliated MVPD. Special provisions are included to preserve and protect the competition and diversity in distribution of video programming, including live sporting events.



  • Satellite TV: No state or local government would have authority to regulate through franchise-agreements or other means Direct-to-Home satellite services.



  • Municipally Owned Networks: Any state or local government seeking to offer communications services must provide conspicuous notice of the proposed scope of the communications service, including cost, services, coverage areas, terms, architecture, etc., as well as describe any free or below costs rights-of-way, and preferential tax treatment, that the project might enjoy. Open bids must then be made available to non-government entities to provide such services on the same terms. In the event of identical bids, preference shall be given to the non-government entity. If the state or local government wins the bid, non-government entities shall have the ability to use the same facilities, and under the same conditions, as the state or local government. Existing municipally-owned networks are grandfathered, unless they substantially expand their current network or services.



  • Basic Telephone Service (BTS): Incumbent local exchange carriers would be required to offer basic telephone service (single line, traditional local calling area, access to 911, touchtone dialing and access to LD carriers) to business and residential customers throughout its territories, with rates capped at current levels, until January 1, 2010. After this date, the rates may be adjusted annually by an amount not to exceed any adjustment in the Consumer Price Index.



  • Federal Quality Standard: The FCC is given the authority to establish a Federal Quality Standard for basic telephone service (BTS) that uses technologies other than the PSTN, in terms of reasonable uptime, installation/repair intervals, and suitable voice quality. State commissions would enforce this Federal Quality Standard.



  • Billing Disputes and Other Rules: The FCC is given authority to develop rules regarding automatic dialing, cramming, slamming, E911, obscene or harassing calls; billing disputes; use of consumer proprietary network information; and disabled access. State commissions are given authority to enforce these rules.



  • Unbundled Copper Loops: Incumbent exchange carriers are required to provide unbundled access to copper loops on commercially reasonable rates, terms and conditions. ILECs are also required to provide central office collocation or virtual collocation for access to the unbundled copper loops. These obligations will terminate on January 1, 2011.



  • Number Portability: All communications service providers that use numbers or the successor to the system assigned by the North American Numbering Plan, shall provide number portability to consumers.



The full text of the proposed legislation is online (72 pages).http://ensign.senate.gov/static_media/072705_telecom_bill.pdf

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