Thursday, March 24, 2005

Telecom bill approved, needs one more vote to move to Senate

The telecom bill got approved on the second reading 145-to-1, with Harold Dutton casting the sole dissenting vote. Sigh. Well Rep. Robert Puente (D-San Antonio -- home of SBC) authored an amendment, which was amended by Rep. Vilma Luna (D-Corpus Christi), that had to do with the wireless internet services that municipalities offer to the public. In a nutshell, municipalities that currently charge for WiFi would have to charge for it in the future and municipalities that currently offer WiFi for free could not charge for it in the future, but municipalities can't change whether or not they charge. And regardless of whether or not they charge, they cannot expand the coverage since they don't want cities competing against companies. Check out the the post by Adina and for more info.

Before Luna offered this amendment, it was very entertaining to watch the exchange between Puente and Hochberg, but it paled in comparison to the exchange between Puente and Turner. Turner can be fierce and a good legislator - when he applies himself. Basically Turner and Hochberg (both from Houston) had really good arguments, but alas Puente's special interests - spelled by the letter s, b, and c - won out.

Today's Austin American-Statesman has a pretty good synopsis of the other key amendments:

  • A proposal requiring the PUC to study the Universal Service Fund, which provides millions of dollars a year in subsidies, chiefly to SBC and Verizon, to ensure phone service in rural areas. Legislators say they want to know whether the money is being spent as intended or whether the fund should be eliminated.

  • A proposal clarifying the PUC's role in handling complaints about "cramming and slamming," in which companies sign up or bill customers for service for which they didn't ask. King's bill had removed that consumer protection role from the PUC.

  • A proposal that would require Internet phone companies to inform customers whether the service includes 911 emergency service. On Tuesday, the state sued Vonage Holdings Corp. over the issue.

  • The article goes on to say that the bill may have trouble in the Senate, where Sen. Troy Fraser may oppose it.

    Fraser had submitted a rival bill that authorized the PUC to decide whether there was sufficient competition in a particular area of the state to merit deregulating rates. He's pulled that bill down for now.

    "It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that the incumbent telephone companies are not interested in competition and are only interested in raising revenue by increasing rates on the consumer and maintaining subsidies at their current levels," Fraser said.

    Well let's just put this behind us so we can enjoy Easter Sunday before gambling is tackled, which will probably be as soon as possible.


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