July 22, 2008 - Markey Chairs Hearing on Telecommunications Competition Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, today chaired a hearing to examine telecommunications competition issues that have impacted national broadband deployment over the last decade. Though the United States was first in the world in broadband deployment in 2000, the country has been sliding down international broadband rankings ever since.

Below is the chairman's opening statement:

 

"Today's hearing is about several issues affecting telecommunications competition.  This hearing comes after several previous hearings, including two last year that examined telecommunications competition in the United States, as well as broadband lessons from abroad.   

"Looking back, observers increasingly recognize now that the United States started out on the right path by implementing provisions in the 1996 Telecommunications Act that were specifically intended to jump-start competition both between and among technology platforms.  When the Telecommunications Act was enacted in 1996, residential consumers did not have broadband offerings in the marketplace.  Yet soon after enactment, deployment by cable and competitive new entrants prompted incumbent phone companies to finally deploy such services to residential consumers. 

"By 2000, the United States was ranked first in the world but subsequently regulators began the ill-considered action of taking the market-opening rules off the books -- and the U.S. started to slide down in international broadband rankings.  People may quibble with the methodology used in such rankings, but regardless of how you slice it - price, speed, percentage of subscribers - the U.S. is clearly no longer on top.

"Ironically, our foreign competitors are now enjoying broadband success stories by adopting and implementing many of the policies that were embodied in the Telecommunications Act but that the FCC has subsequently abandoned.

"Several pressing competition issues, including pole attachment rates, interconnection issues, number porting timeframes, copper wire retirement, and forbearance legislation, are before the Subcommittee today.  And each of these issues, if resolved correctly, can help promote greater broadband deployment, speeds, and consumer choice.

"These issues also highlight the repercussions caused by the FCC's regulatory re-classification of services such as broadband access to the Internet.  This semantic confusion and the ensuing regulatory uncertainty leave countless carriers and industry participants without clear direction as to their legal rights and obligations under the law.  The fact that one incumbent provider, Vermont Telephone, felt that it was empowered to deny interconnection to another provider shows how far some in the industry, as well as at the FCC, have strayed from the intent of Congress in the Telecommunications Act.  The continued invocation of intuited or ancillary authority under Title I of the Communications Act to alternatively modify, waive, or plug statutory holes in our nation's communications laws and regulations is untenable in the long term in my view.  Congress should address these issues, and others including broadband consumer protection issues, comprehensively in the next Congress, as part of overarching broadband policy legislation.     

"Today's hearing is also a formal legislative hearing on H.R. 3914, a bill offered by Chairman John Dingell and myself addressing forbearance issues.  This legislation fixes a glaring problem in the Communications Act by removing the so-called ‘deemed granted' provision contained in Section 10 of the Communications Act.  This provision currently permits automatic deregulation of duly enacted statutes if the Commission fails to act within the statutory time period. This can occur even if a tie vote demonstrates no clear majority supports such deregulation.  With the Commission having permitted forbearance on a two-two tie previously, and possibly having just 4 Commissioners serving early next year, this concern is not purely theoretical.

"If there is a clear majority to support forbearance of specific obligations, then let's have the FCC act in timely fashion, with written justification, to approve such forbearance.  But an agency's inability to act should not result in the removal of statutory duties that may have taken Congress years, and a clear Congressional majority, to enact. 

"In addition, I continue to be concerned about the process by which the Commission considers forbearance petitions.  In the past, industry petitioners have gamed the proceeding by filing amendments to their petitions so late in the time period for consideration that affected parties and the public have no meaningful opportunity to consider and respond to the proposed amendments.  The Commission has an open proceeding to reform this obvious abuse of the process and I urge the Commission to act to protect the integrity of its proceedings and the public interest.

"I want to thank the witnesses for their willingness to provide testimony this afternoon and to answer questions.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 22, 2008

CONTACT: Jessica Schafer, 202.225.2836