Committee Approves Communications Reform Bill

June 28, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today by a bipartisan vote of 15 to 7 approved its comprehensive communications reform bill, which contains provisions that speed the deployment of broadband and stimulate competition in the video service market.
The legislation, now named the Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act, incorporates 11 titles that address a variety of communications issues, including interoperability funding, the Universal Service Fund, municipal broadband services, video franchise reform, the digital television transition, and the illegal transmission of child pornography.
“This bill is a result of more than a year and a half work by our Committee,” said Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). “We held 26 hearings and six listening sessions on a range of communications issues. I believe the final product represents a good compromise. This has been a truly bipartisan effort. In particular, I commend my Co-Chairman, Senator Inouye for his leadership.”
The approved bill would codify an Internet Consumer Bill of Rights which preserves Internet users’ ability to freely navigate the World Wide Web. The bill ensures that all Internet service providers allow subscribers to access and post any lawful content; access any web page; access and run any voice, video, or email application of their choosing; access and run any software or search engine service; and connect any legal device of their choosing.
In addition, this bill updates the Universal Service program by restoring accountability through audits and quality metrics, while stabilizing the program by ensuring all communications service providers contribute to the Fund. This bill also contains a provision that uses Universal Service funds to establish a $500 million account that will finance broadband deployment to unserved areas. 
The Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act streamlines the process telephone companies must engage in when seeking to offer video services to consumers. If the bill is passed, telephone companies would no longer have to negotiate with 10,000-plus franchising authorities operating in the United States. The bill reduces the amount of time needed to complete the franchising process from several years to not more than three months.
The bill now proceeds to the full Senate, though a timeline for consideration has yet to be determined.