11:08 AM EST

Felix Grucci Jr., R-NY 1st

Mr. GRUCCI. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks and insert extraneous material on H.R. 1042, as amended.

11:08 AM EST

Fred Upton, R-MI 6th

Mr. UPTON. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 496) to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to promote deployment of advanced services and foster the development of competition for the benefit of consumers in all regions of the Nation by relieving unnecessary burdens on the Nation's two percent local exchange telecommunications carriers, and for other purposes, as amended.

11:08 AM EST

Fred Upton, R-MI 6th

Mr. UPTON. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 496) to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to promote deployment of advanced services and foster the development of competition for the benefit of consumers in all regions of the Nation by relieving unnecessary burdens on the Nation's two percent local exchange telecommunications carriers, and for other purposes, as amended.

11:09 AM EST

Fred Upton, R-MI 6th

Mr. UPTON. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 496, the Independent Telecommunications Consumer Enhancement Act of 2001. This legislation provides common sense regulatory relief that will enable small and mid-size telephone companies to respond to competition in their service territories.

For too long, telephone companies have been saddled with unnecessary and burdensome regulations that increase the costs associated with providing phone service. The current regulatory framework for incumbent local exchange carriers is, to say the least, antiquated.

Too often, the FCC imposes one-size-fits-all rules on all carriers, neglecting to take into account the size of carriers and the difference in the level of competition faced by carriers that serve disparate geographic regions. Reports must be filed that are rarely, if ever, read probably by FCC staff, reports that literally cost millions and millions of dollars and certainly countless man-hours to compile.

The FCC also imposes rigid rules on the types of price regulation that small and mid-size carriers may, in fact, elect. These rigid rules prevent a carrier from electing different regulatory treatment for different parts of its territory, even if the carrier serves distinctive regions of a State or the country, and the costs to provide such service in these regions is simply not the same.

The FCC's rules also do not give small and mid-size carriers the flexibility to offer discounts to reflect competitive conditions in their service territory.

Mr. Speaker, one final area that the bill addresses concerns the process through which the FCC issues decisions on mergers and waivers of the Commission's rules. Mr. Speaker, this process takes way too long. Mergers of small and mid-size carriers, or the acquisition of one of these carriers of access lines belonging to a large carrier, should be decided within 60 days. Requests for waivers or reconsideration of the commission's rules governing the activities of small and mid-size companies should

not take longer than 90 days. Both of these timetables give the FCC plenty of time to make the review.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate that this bill provides common sense relief to those incumbent local exchange carriers that possess fewer than 2 percent of the Nation's access lines.

I commend in particular the gentlewoman from Wyoming (Mrs. CUBIN), my good friend and colleague, for authoring this legislation again; and I urge my colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

11:09 AM EST

Fred Upton, R-MI 6th

Mr. UPTON. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 496, the Independent Telecommunications Consumer Enhancement Act of 2001. This legislation provides common sense regulatory relief that will enable small and mid-size telephone companies to respond to competition in their service territories.

For too long, telephone companies have been saddled with unnecessary and burdensome regulations that increase the costs associated with providing phone service. The current regulatory framework for incumbent local exchange carriers is, to say the least, antiquated.

Too often, the FCC imposes one-size-fits-all rules on all carriers, neglecting to take into account the size of carriers and the difference in the level of competition faced by carriers that serve disparate geographic regions. Reports must be filed that are rarely, if ever, read probably by FCC staff, reports that literally cost millions and millions of dollars and certainly countless man-hours to compile.

The FCC also imposes rigid rules on the types of price regulation that small and mid-size carriers may, in fact, elect. These rigid rules prevent a carrier from electing different regulatory treatment for different parts of its territory, even if the carrier serves distinctive regions of a State or the country, and the costs to provide such service in these regions is simply not the same.

The FCC's rules also do not give small and mid-size carriers the flexibility to offer discounts to reflect competitive conditions in their service territory.

Mr. Speaker, one final area that the bill addresses concerns the process through which the FCC issues decisions on mergers and waivers of the Commission's rules. Mr. Speaker, this process takes way too long. Mergers of small and mid-size carriers, or the acquisition of one of these carriers of access lines belonging to a large carrier, should be decided within 60 days. Requests for waivers or reconsideration of the commission's rules governing the activities of small and mid-size companies should

not take longer than 90 days. Both of these timetables give the FCC plenty of time to make the review.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate that this bill provides common sense relief to those incumbent local exchange carriers that possess fewer than 2 percent of the Nation's access lines.

I commend in particular the gentlewoman from Wyoming (Mrs. CUBIN), my good friend and colleague, for authoring this legislation again; and I urge my colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

11:12 AM EST

Tom Barrett, D-WI 5th

Mr. BARRETT of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues on the Committee on Energy and Commerce in support of the Independent Telecommunications Consumer Enhancement Act. Along with the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. GORDON) and the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. PICKERING), I was an original cosponsor of the bill introduced by the gentlewoman from Wyoming (Mrs. CUBIN) in the previous Congress and reintroduced this year.

The gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. GORDON) had intended to be here to manage this bill this morning, but he and his wife, Leslie, are welcoming their new baby daughter, Peyton Margaret, into the world this morning. So I offer my congratulations to both of them for that.

The Independent Telecommunications Consumer Enhancement Act, approved by voice vote on the House floor last year, would relax some of the FCC's one-size-fits-all regulations for our Nation's small and mid-size local telephone companies, those with less than 2 percent of the Nation's phone lines.

These companies serve rural and suburban communities across the country and are poised to offer broadband and other advanced services to customers who are often outside the scope of the larger companies. This bill will reduce paperwork for the smaller companies, increase their pricing flexibility, and allow them to bundle services on one bill without reopening the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

In my State of Wisconsin, 81 of the 83 companies providing local service are classified as 2 percent companies. By freeing these companies from portions of a regulatory system designed with much larger companies in mind, we will be taking an important first step towards bridging the digital divide by allowing for increased investment in Internet facilities in rural and suburban areas.

I urge my colleagues to support this common sense legislation, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

11:14 AM EST

Barbara Cubin, R-WY

Mrs. CUBIN. Mr. Speaker, last year I introduced legislation similar to H.R. 496 that began a process to force the Federal Communications Commission to administer small and mid-size telecommunications companies differently during its regulatory deliberations.

This bill passed by unanimous voice vote in the House and in the Committee on Commerce. This legislation does nothing more than clear out the regulatory underbrush that makes it difficult for small and mid-size companies to offer the same types of services that their sometimes larger competitors do.

Let me give my colleagues an idea of the companies in my State that we are talking about. H.R. 496 helps companies like small telephone carriers in Chugwater, Wyoming, Chugwater Telephone Company, which has 300 access lines. All West Communications has 363 access lines. Project Telephone Company, 219. Union Telephone, 1,600. It is one of the larger. These are the types of carriers that are in my district, and my colleagues will find these types of carriers all over the country. These are the

carriers we are trying to help not have to fill out the extraordinarily complex and expensive forms that the larger companies, AT&T and some of the larger companies, have to do.

[Time: 11:15]

The intention was then and it continues to be my intention today to lessen the regulatory burdens on small and mid-sized telephone companies so that they can streamline their business plans and, hopefully, shift some more of their resources to deploying advanced telecommunication services to all areas of the country, including rural areas.

With the help of many of my colleagues, and I sincerely thank them, especially the chairman of the Committee on Commerce, the gentleman from Louisiana (Mr. TAUZIN); the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. UPTON), the subcommittee chairman; the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. PICKERING); the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. BARRETT); the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. GORDON); and the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. LARGENT). I really appreciate the help that they have

given in getting this bill to this point.

The FCC, to its credit, has made some headway in this area, and I do commend them for it, however, they cannot seem to get the ball across the goal line. In 1999, the Commission initiated a process to reduce accounting requirements for small telecommunications companies; and although we have seen some incremental steps and public meetings held, we have yet to see a final product. I said it last year and I will restate it, because I think it is very important, the Commission's time line on finalizing

the accounting and reporting standards has changed like the Wyoming winds. My bill does nothing more than what the Commission already says it is attempting to do.

One of the concerns I heard last year was that the bill would somehow make it impossible to collect sufficient cost data to determine its high-cost support mechanisms. My colleagues all know [Page: H1033]

that I represent the most rural State in the country and, as such, Federal universal service support is absolutely critical. I would never do anything to compromise universal service.

In a letter written to me last month by the president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, or NARUC, and the Chair of the NARUC Telecom Committee made it clear that nothing in this bill, and I quote, ``precludes States from access to information needed in State proceedings through data requests or similar methods. We understand that this bill does not affect underlying accounting rules nor prohibitions against cross subsidies.''

Let me be clear. This bill does nothing to take away any authority from the FCC in requesting necessary paperwork that it needs to do its job.

Mr. Speaker, I want to be brief, which I guess is already too late, so I will summarize the changes and improvements that we have made to the bill. Last year, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. MARKEY) and I worked on several modifications to the bill, a majority of which were incorporated into it as it passed the House. This year we have continued our dialogue and have come together on even more changes and clarifications.

First, I want to commend the gentleman from Massachusetts for his concern for rural telecommunications customers and the rates that they pay. I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to work out language that will guaranty that under section 286 of the bill, which is the pricing flexibility section, that rural customers' rates will not increase when competition forces prices to go down in one area only to be shifted to another area to make up the difference.

We have tightened the definition of what a 2 percent carrier is. There is now language in section 284 where we have installed a bulletproof fire wall to protect against possible gaming of the system when companies elect to choose tariff flexibility.

Finally, we have reworked the merger section. And I want it to be clear that the merger review language only applies to those companies that remain 2 percent companies after the acquisition of another company.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot overstate the importance of this bill for rural areas like Wyoming. I appreciate all of the help that I have had in getting it this far.

11:20 AM EST

Mark R. Kennedy, R-MN 2nd

Mr. KENNEDY of Minnesota. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time, and I rise in support of H.R. 496, the Independent Telecommunications Enhancement Act of 2001.

H.R. 496 is good for southwest Minnesota because it helps our small and mid-sized telephone companies by reducing the regulatory burden that has been put upon them. One of my goals in Congress is to help our rural communities by improving their rural telecommunications infrastructure.

I believe that this bill, introduced by the gentlewoman from Wyoming, who says she is from the most rural State, while I profess to be from the most rural district in the country, that this will help us meet the goal by reducing government regulations on smaller phone companies and allowing them to focus their efforts instead on providing quality and competitive service to rural America instead of dealing with burdensome regulations.

By allowing companies to focus on improving our communities by deploying new services and investing in infrastructure instead of complying with burdensome regulations, more residents in southwest Minnesota and in Wyoming will have access to telecommunication services that their friends and families in bigger cities oftentimes already have.

I believe this is a step in the right direction towards closing the digital divide that we face here in America, and I also believe that by improving rural telecommunications services and infrastructure that we can make our rural areas more attractive to new and existing businesses.

I thank the chairman, I thank the gentlewoman from Wyoming for putting this forward, and I look forward to voting for it.