Date: April 25, 2001
Contact: Audrie Krause, Executive Director
Phone: 415-215-9392

Tauzin Bill Would Worsen Digital Divide

SAN FRANCISCO - "The 'digital divide' will turn into a 'digital Grand Canyon' if Congress approves legislation introduced yesterday by Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin," said Audrie Krause, executive director of a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action.

Krause predicted that the bill - H.R. 1542 (The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001) - would exacerbate the existing gulf between technology "haves" and "have-nots" in announcing NetAction's opposition to the bill, which was introduced yesterday by Tauzin. The bill would lift restrictions that now prevent local phone monopolies from handling long distance data transmission.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the four local phone service monopolies - SBC Communications, Verizon, BellSouth and Qwest Communications International - to open their local service networks to competition before entering long distance markets.

The requirement is one of the key consumer protections in the 1996 Act. It was intended to serve as an incentive to the local monopolies to open their networks to competitors, but rather than comply with the requirement the local monopolies have been lobbying Congress to lift the restriction.

"One of the arguments used to justify this end-run on the 1996 Act is that it will promote the deployment of broadband Internet access in rural communities," said Krause. "But the local monopolies have been selling off their rural assets as quickly as possible, so this justification is absurd."

Krause called up on Congress to reject H.R. 1542.

"Our research suggests that rural communities are increasingly turning to alternative technologies for broadband Internet access, and that those technologies are already being offered by a number of competitive telecommunications companies," she said.

According to Krause, the real goal of H.R. 1542 is to allow the four local service companies to sell long distance service within their local territory without first opening their local markets to competition.

"Rather than helping to close the 'digital divide,' this will bring consumers less choice, lower quality phone service, and higher prices," she added.

NetAction is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and educating the public and policymakers about technology policy.

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