Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, I enthusiastically bring the general debate for H.R. 5252, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006, to the floor of the House of Representatives. The process in getting the bill to this stage has been long, has been fruitful, and, in my opinion, it has been fair. It has involved more than a year of hearings, as well as staff and Member-level negotiations. That process has clearly borne, I think, positive fruit.
We come to the House today with a bill that has received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the subcommittee and the full committee. The bill passed the subcommittee by a margin of 27-4, with all Republicans voting for it and two-thirds of the Democrat minority party voting for it. In the full committee it was reported by a margin of 42-12, again all Republicans voting for it and a majority of the Democrats voting for it.
The primary focus of this legislation is to create a streamlined cable franchising process in order to increase the number of facilities-based providers for video, voice, and data services everywhere in our great Nation.
Today, there are thousands of local franchising authorities. Each may impose disparate restriction on the provision of cable service in its specific franchising area. The requirement to negotiate such local franchises and the patchwork of obligations that local franchising authorities impose are hindering the deployment of advanced broadband networks that will bring increasingly innovative and competitive services to all of our constituents.
The United States does not even rank in the top 10 of the nations of the world in broadband deployment. This bill should change that statistic.
H.R. 5252 seeks to address this concern and strike the right balance between national standards and local oversight. It would allow the negotiation of local franchises, but make available an alternative national franchise process.
Moreover, the national franchise preserves local franchise fees, municipal control over their rights-of-way, and support for their Public Education and Governmental channels that so many of our Members are strongly in favor of.
The bill also seeks to strike the right balance between ensuring the public Internet remains an open, vibrant marketplace, and ensuring Congress does not hand the FCC a blank check to regulate Internet services, an action that I believe would have a chilling effect on broadband deployment, especially broadband innovation. We need the FCC to stop the cheats without killing honest creativity. We don't need anybody to be the first Secretary of the Internet.
Finally, the bill addresses rules for voiceover Internet protocol services, or VoIP services, to ensure that the Internet voice services become a vibrant competitor to what we call plain old telephone service.
I want to thank Congressman Rush for his cosponsorship, Subcommittee Chairman Mr. Upton for his cosponsorship, Vice Chairman CHIP PICKERING of Mississippi for his leadership, and all the members of the committee and the subcommittee on both sides of the aisle who have cosponsored this bipartisan legislation with me.
I would urge my colleagues to support this bill and look forward to a vigorous debate on the amendments that have been made in order by the Rules Committee.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this measure. It is a bad bill. It does nothing except take care of the special and the vested interests. The baby bells, the telephone companies, and the cable operators are going to cut a fat hog. The consumers are able to anticipate only a few things: One, they are going to get worse service, probably less competition, and almost certainly increases in rates.
Consumers are going to see their cities lose control over their streets and roads to, of all things, the Federal Communications Commission, one of the sorriest of the Federal agencies, and an agency which has neither the staff time nor willingness to address the important questions that are going to be conferred on it by this legislation.
In addition to that, the FCC is going to be clogged. There is going to be deadlock and absolute chaos in that agency because of the total lack of that agency in addressing the serious questions regarding administration of highways, streets, roads, and use of public facilities belonging to cities, counties, and States.
It would be a wonderful argument, which is made by the proponents of this bill, that it will lower cable bills and bring consumers choice. What a wonderful argument, if only it were true. This bill is going to harm our consumers, harm our citizens, and harm commercial users of the Internet.
First, with regard to consumers. The bill will leave many consumers paying higher prices for cable services. There is no general promise of lower prices. In fact, the telephone companies, and listen to this, have been telling Wall Street that the price they get for their services will be higher than cable. That is the competition we are going to see under this legislation.
Worse, the bill is a blow to the universal service principles which Congress has insisted on since 1927. The bill abandons current law that in exchange for the use of public property cable operators are required to serve all consumers, all consumers in the franchise area. Both new and existing cable providers will, under this bill, be allowed to cherrypick and skim cream, [Page: H3552]
serving only attractive neighborhoods and the highest value of consumers in the
way that best suits their balance sheets. The rest of us will only be left without competitive choice, but we very well can face higher cable bills, worse service qualities, or even withdrawal of our only provider.
The bill's redlining provisions focused on income is too weak to offer any real protection against discrimination, which is why the leadership conference on civil rights opposes it. The bill does not stop cable operators from offering inferior service based on a person's race, color, religion, national origin or sex.
Second, communities find that this bill inexplicably takes control over local rights-of-way. And as I mentioned, hands them, of all things, to the FCC. Now, the FCC knows about as much on street and sidewalk repairs and local traffic patterns and other local concerns as it does about astrophysics, yet the bill lets the FCC overrule the cities with regard to the management of their property. This is the reason that the League of Cities, the Conference of Mayors and the National Association of
Counties oppose it.
Citizens and commercial users of the Internet will find a third reason to oppose it. This bill does away with network neutrality. It is something in which there should be no mistake. Telephone and cable companies will be able to operate as private tax collectors to single out certain Web sites to pay extra fees, to make extra benefits, and get extra privileges. Small and large business schools, libraries, ordinary citizens running Web sites will get shut out of this fast lane unless they are
willing to pay a lot more. This could significantly alter the open and innovative Internet that the government has, until now, protected.
If you want a bad piece of legislation, Mr. Chairman, we are looking at it right here. It is going to hurt people. We could have written a good piece of legislation but, regrettably, did not. We have before us, then, a piece of the purest special interest legislation, something which will benefit the few at the expense of the many, something which is rather worthy of this Republican-led Congress.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a strong supporter of the bill, the gentleman from California (Mr. Radanovich).
Mr. RADANOVICH. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I rise to support H.R. 5252, the COPE Act. Today's communications networks have become national and international in nature, therefore it does not make sense to still require companies to provide video services to meet varying requirements in tens of thousands of different areas.
We have seen evidence and heard stories of the months and years it takes to get any one individual franchise, and in some cases video providers must get dozens of individual franchises to service one area. All that does is slow down competition.
This bill also helps get the next generation Internet to consumers with the ability to provide voice, data, and now video, telecommunications companies will be able to develop and increase their infrastructure and provide better and cheaper services.
This is one of the most pro-consumer bills to come to the floor this year, and we need to make sure that the President signs video voice legislation this year. I urge all my colleagues to vote for the COPE Act.
Ms. BALDWIN. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 5252, the Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006.
Simply put, I support the ends but not the means with respect to this legislation. The goal of increasing competition in the video communication market is worthy. Indeed, it is of great importance. We know that robust competition can improve customer services, reduce pricing, and spark innovation and technological advances. This House is right to take on this critical and timely subject. But I am disappointed the drafters felt the need to use a national cable franchise as the means to achieve
these laudable ends.
I see numerous examples of telephone companies, small and large, entering into successful negotiations with local franchise authorities, and I believe that we can encourage new entrants and new competition without moving to a federally managed national franchise.
But, Mr. Chairman, despite my reservations about the national cable franchise, I might view this model more favorably if the legislation contained adequate safeguards and requirements to ensure that the benefits of increased competition are shared as widely as possible. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in committee when we marked up this legislation and we were denied the ability to bring our amendments to improve the bill to the floor this evening.
Instead, H.R. 5252 backs away from the tenet of universal service to all citizens, which has been a fundamental principle of our Nation's communication policies for over 70 years. And while anti-redlining language is included in the bill, other provisions in the bill render it toothless.
The legislation also strips the States and localities of their authority to both establish and enforce consumer protections and customer service standards. It makes the FCC the final arbiter of local rights-of-way disputes.
Most disappointingly, the bill does little to protect what we call the neutrality of the Internet. Neutrality has become crucial to the development of innovative and competitive broadband content and services.
I urge my colleagues to reject this legislation.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to a member of the full committee and the distinguished Chairman of the Veterans' Committee, Mr. Buyer of Indiana.
Mr. BUYER. Mr. Chairman, I commend Chairman Barton and Chairman Upton for their leadership, along with my colleague, Mr. Rush, from Chicago, and others.
This came out of the subcommittee 27-4, a majority of the minority Democrats of the full committee supported this legislation. So this is an overwhelmingly bipartisan piece of legislation that is very exciting for the American people because it outlines the principles of free, open, market competition. It continues to spawn the technological renaissance that will benefit consumers and lower price.
We are talking about things today that weren't even around when we did the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Telephony? IPTV? We didn't even know those terms. As a matter of fact, when compression technology came along, we thought the future in 1996 was about voice. We got it wrong. It is about voice, video, and data, and that is what we have today on these cell phones.
So when we talk about delivering of video services, the landscaped has changed. Congress has to change. We need to get out of the way. We need to deregulate. If you have to regulate, do so on parity and be technologically neutral.
I commend the chairman.
Mr. BOUCHER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Massachusetts for yielding this time to me. I rise in support of the bill and I urge its approval by the House.
In my view, it will bring urgently needed competition to cable television and benefit consumers nationwide with more varied program offerings and the better pricing that competition inevitably brings.
The bill also opens the door for local governments to offer commercial telecommunication services, filling the gap where broadband is either not available or is available but is priced beyond the reach of residential subscribers and the small business community.
The manager's amendment contains provisions I recommended that will assure fair treatment for electric utilities and telephone companies in pole attachment pricing, and I want to thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton), who chairs the full committee, for his assistance with that provision. And the bill will assure that consumers who desire to purchase a freestanding broadband service can do so without having to buy telephone or cable service from the broadband provider.
I also urge support for the net neutrality amendment that the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) will be offering. It is essential to preserve the Internet as a platform for innovation. Broadband providers plan to create a two-lane Internet, a fast lane for their own content and for others who can pay for fast-lane access, and a slow lane for everyone else. That plan fundamentally changes the character of the Internet and would eliminate the openness and the accessibility that
have enabled the Internet to be a platform for innovation unequaled by any advent in American history.
I will have more to say about that when the Markey amendment is offered, but I want to take the opportunity during these remarks to say that the net neutrality amendment is fundamental, and I strongly urge its adoption when it is offered.
Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 5252. This legislation will permit us to move the video franchising process into the 21st century. The concept of a national franchise is needed to make the U.S. concurrent with the global nature of telecommunications by enabling competition to enter the market and build tomorrow's communications network in a timely manner.
There are more than 30,000 individual franchise authorities in the United States. If telecom companies have to negotiate with each and every one of these, it will be a very long time before they get around to addressing video franchises for rural areas such as the one I represent in Louisiana. Video competition will increase access for these rural Americans and drive new innovations like telemedicine and distance learning. We can greatly accelerate that process by creating a national streamlined
method for video entry.
Let us not miss this opportunity to allow the marketplace to thrive and usher in a new era in technology.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I wish to propound a parliamentary inquiry.
I would like to yield 10 minutes to my Democrat sponsor, Mr. Rush, to control in the general debate in the Committee of the Whole. Is that possible, or how might I do that?
Mr. GONZALEZ. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I need to thank the chairman, my neighbor in Texas, as well as Mr. Rush, my dear friend and colleague.
I want to express my support today as we move forward on the COPE Act. This bill will make necessary changes to the Nation's cable laws to ensure that for the first time we have a fully open national market for cable services. This will allow not only the major phone and cable companies to compete against each other in provision of video services to average Americans, but will allow countless new companies to quickly enter the cable television market and offer their services. This will not only
drive down prices for every American, but it will undoubtedly result in countless unforeseen new services and technologies to be offered to Americans.
Mr. Chairman, the telecommunications industry is the most dynamic industry in this country. Every day new technologies are introduced that have the potential to dramatically expand the opportunities for average Americans to have access to new sources of information, new forms of entertainment, and new ways to communicate with each other. These changes have become so rapid with so many implications to both business and public policy that the political process has simply failed to keep up.
This bill reflects, in my view, how Congress should best handle the revolutionary changes that are occurring in telecommunications. It should let the marketplace work. Mayors, regulators, and Members of Congress simply do not know in advance how all of the revolutionary changes in telecommunications will turn out. For us to attempt to do so, whether under the guise of net neutrality or any other slogan, is both foolish and dangerous.
Rather, we should aim, as this bill does, to relieve unnecessary barriers that prevent a full national market to [Page: H3554]
develop and leave the ultimate decision-making process to the engineers, the businessmen and, most importantly, the consumers of our country.
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank our chairman for the good work on the bill, and I want to encourage my colleagues to support this legislation tonight.
My colleague, Representative Wynn, and I began working on the effort to streamline this Nation's franchising rules more than a year ago when we introduced the Video Choice Act. It has been a pleasure to work with him on the issue.
We knew that government regulations were keeping prices high for American consumers; and when I spoke earlier today during debate on the rule, I talked a bit about how competition helps lower prices. I have a chart here to help make that point. This data demonstrates consumer price changes over the past 7 years. Here is the Consumer Price Index. Now take a look at what has happened with cable prices over the past 7 years and how they have soared. This blue line right here is our long distance
prices, and then our wireless prices are the green line. So you can see how dramatically our video or cable pricing has outpaced the Consumer Price Index.
Mr. Chairman, the COPE bill will bring competition. It will help lower prices. It will help all entrants, including the little guys, like Ben Lomand Telephone Cooperative in McMinnville, Tennessee.
Mr. ALLEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to H.R. 5252. I regret that leadership did not allow votes on key amendments important to municipalities and community television.
Each of us wants more competition in video. That can happen today. There is no legal impediment to a telephone company offering video over its lines. There are two towns in Maine wired for video, but the service has not been turned on.
If the current local franchising regime is as cumbersome as the phone companies say, then let's figure out a way to streamline the process. The municipalities are open to streamlining. We should negotiate a consensus bill involving all of the stakeholders.
Unfortunately, this bill did not follow that process. Twice the Committee on Energy and Commerce on which I serve struck bipartisan deals that gave all stakeholders a voice in the legislation; and twice the bipartisan deals were scuttled by external forces that preferred a divisive bill to a consensus one.
My substantive concerns are threefold:
First, local control. The current cable franchising process gives communities the ability to meet their needs. Municipalities can ensure that every resident gets service and that access to public access channels. They retain management of public rights-of-way.
This bill goes too far by federalizing the process of streamlining. It makes the FCC the arbiter of consumer complaints, for example; and the FCC has neither the resources nor expertise to do that.
Second, universal access. The new video providers have been honest. They are going to the swanky neighborhoods first. Maine is a rural State. Without a build-out requirement, companies are free to ignore northern and eastern Maine.
If we abandon universal access, we will leave rural areas behind.
Third, net neutrality. I support the Markey amendment. Allowing toll booths on the Internet will undermine the freedom of the Internet and hurt consumers.
Lastly, any franchising bill that becomes law should include reform of the universal service fund to bring broadband and video competition to rural and underserved counties.
I urge defeat of the bill.
Mr. GENE GREEN of Texas. Mr. Chairman, the COPE Act is a complex piece of legislation with a simple purpose, granting a nationwide cable television franchise to provide competition.
Today, cable television is a series of local monopolies. Only 2 percent of the United States has competition, companies that those local franchises are aggressively marketing, Voice Over IP, telephone service, broadband, and giving them a triple play of video, broadband and voice services at a flat monthly rate.
In Houston, that monthly rate is about $100 and you can get digital cable, high speed Internet and unlimited telephone calls from the cable company. To compete with the cable's triple-play monopoly, telephone companies need to spend billions to upgrade their networks to carry the high-definition cable television service and faster broadband.
The FCC has found that cable television rates drop 40 percent after competition. And that doesn't even factor in the consumer benefits from the triple play, so to speak, that you add, also the cost savings from telephone Internet and high speed cable service, definition service.
As a result, we should support granting national franchises for cable television service to spur competition. If we stick with local franchises, then there will be much less cable and triple-play competition.
The purpose of the bill is great, and I have had a number of concerns about the district I represent that is not a wealthy area. These concerns have been addressed.
For example, franchise areas are defined as they are today that would prevent telephone companies from cherry-picking areas out of existing franchises. This means that the bill's redlining provisions, drafted by my colleague from Illinois, BOBBY RUSH, would stop companies from picking and choosing the areas they want to serve. I would have preferred Mr. Dingell's [Page: H3555]
approach, but again we don't have that opportunity, and it didn't pass in
committee even though I voted for it.
However, I still strongly support the legislation because we have had several discussions with our local telecom company about their plans for competition in my area. As a result, I am confident that the build-out will increase in all areas of Houston, and they are not just going to go to the high-income areas; they will come to my low-wealth and my middle class area.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to place my full statement into the RECORD, and I would hope that this would be a compromise bill. I am sorry that our leadership and the committee didn't work it. But some day, hopefully, it will be the Barton-Dingell bill again.
Mr. Chairman, the COPE Act is a complex piece of legislation with a simple purpose: granting nationwide cable television franchises to provide competition.
Today cable television is a series of local monopolies--only 2 percent of the U.S. has competition.
Companies with these local franchises are aggressively marketing VOIP telephone service and broadband, giving them a ``triple play'' of video, broadband, and voice services at a flat monthly rate.
In Houston, for $100 a month, you can get digital cable, high speed Internet, and unlimited telephone calls from the cable company.
To compete with cable's triple play monopoly, telephone companies need to spend billions to upgrade their networks to carry high-definition cable television service and faster broadband.
The Federal Communications Commission has found that cable television rats drop 40 percent after competition and that doesn't even factor in the consumer benefits of the triple play.
As a result, we should support granting national franchises for cable television service to spur competition. If we stick with local franchises, then there will be much less cable and triple play competition.
The purpose of the bill is great, but I did have a number of concerns about this legislation and its effects on the middle-class folks in my district. These concerns have been addressed.
For example, franchise areas in the bill were defined as they are today, which would prevent telephone companies from cherry-picking areas out of existing franchise areas.
This means that the bill's anti-redlining provisions, drafted by Congressman BOBBY RUSH, will stop companies from picking and choosing the areas they want to offer service.
I would have preferred the approach by Mr. DINGELL, which would have set reasonable, flexible guidelines for companies to build out their networks and offer new services.
I wish we could have considered Mr. DINGELL's amendment today, and I am disappropriated that the Rules Committee rejected it.
They did a disservice to one of the most knowledgeable, respected Members in the history of Congress.
However, I can still strongly support this legislation because we have had several discussions with our local telecom company about their plans for competition in the Houston area.
As a result of those conversations, I am confident that buildout is going to increase in all areas of Houston and that they are not going to discriminate against our middle class and low wealth areas.
To all members who are concerned about the impact of this legislation on your district, I encourage you to contact your incumbent telecom company and meet with their local staff responsible for deployment, not just the DC staff. I think you will be happy with what you hear.
Cities are also concerned with their interests in franchising, but many of these concerns have been addressed. Cities will not lose any revenue as a result of this bill. The COPE Act allows 5 percent franchise fees and 1 percent public access fees.
Cities will also not lose any right-of-way control and to make sure, I included an amendment in Committee to require companies to certify in writing that they will obey local right of way rules.
I do regret that the usual bi-partisan telecom process between the leadership of our Committee has temporarily broken down.
Today is not the end of the road, so I hope this can still become a Barton-Dingell bill or a Dingell-Barton bill before all is said and done.
Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. Chairman, I thank my friend from Massachusetts for his leadership on all of these issues.
Net neutrality would maintain the free and open Internet that exists today. This bill simply does not protect the right of consumers to a wide array of information and entertainment sources.
The Markey amendment would provide those essential protections by outlawing sweetheart deals between network operators, like the phone or cable companies, and Internet content providers.
Without net neutrality, buying company A's phone service might restrict you to Google and deny you Yahoo, might deny you CNN.com and only give you FoxNews.com.
American consumers deserve choice, whether they choose to use the Internet giant Google or the new start-up search engine. This amendment is about consumer choice. This amendment is about market competitiveness.
I urge you to join me in support of the Markey amendment in opposition to the bill.
Mr. BURGESS. Mr. Chairman, I do want to thank Chairman Barton, chairman of the Full Committee; and the gentleman from Michigan, who is the subcommittee chairman; as well as Vice Chairman PICKERING. And also we have enjoyed the bipartisan support from BOBBY RUSH on our committee.
This is truly a bipartisan product that was forged together after countless hours of negotiation. Its recent passage out of the Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 42-12 only underscores this point.
Mr. Chairman, I represent a district in north Texas, and there is a community within that area in north Texas named Keller. Keller, Texas, a very forward-thinking town of over 36,000 people. Keller is home to Verizon's first fiberoptic television system. What has happened since the fiberoptic system was introduced in the Keller market is that prices for cable TV are now 25 percent lower than they were before the entry into the video market. New services, new technologies, lower prices.
Consumers now have a choice, and over 30 percent of the market has signed up for this new fiberoptic service from Verizon. Clearly, people want choice. The citizens of Keller not only have access to one of the best telecommunications networks in the world, and a choice of providers, but they also get much better services at competitive prices.
What is even more intriguing is about a third of those new video customers were not previously cable customers. That means that these customers now are a new source of franchise fee revenue for the city of Keller.
Mr. Chairman, it is no accident that every member from Texas on the committee supports this bill. This past year the State of Texas passed legislation similar to that which we are considering here, removing the franchise fee from the local level. Texas is now at the forefront of video competition.
I sponsored H.R. 5252. I voted for it in committee. I will vote for it on the floor. I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense legislation as well.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 2 minutes.
This is a historic bill. Without question, the Republican majority is not respecting the importance of the issue.
Tonight, we will have a debate on net neutrality that will last 20 minutes, 10 minutes on either side. That is, without question, a disgrace. We debate week after week out here on the House floor, namings of post offices that each get 40 minutes. Here we are talking about an engine of economic growth which has transformed our economy and the global economy over the last 15 years. And it has done so with provisions which guaranteed nondiscrimination to the smallest players being able to enter
with their ideas and communicate across our country and across the globe.
What the Republicans are doing tonight is they are refusing to have a debate on who is going to be benefited [Page: H3556]
from it. That is, will the telephone companies be responsible for building-out across all communities? Their bill says you don't have to, and they won't allow us an amendment out here on the floor so that we can have that debate.
Will there be redlining? We believe there should not be. The Republicans refuse to allow HILDA SOLIS's amendment out here on the floor so we can have a full debate on it.
Will there be a bill that passes tonight which is defeatist in terms of entrepreneurs and equal access, democratization of access to opportunity because of access to this new technology in every part of the community? Or will it be a bill that has a future orientation, looking ahead over the next century as to who Americans are going to be, what the nature of our economy is going to be in terms of these entrepreneurs playing this change agent role? Or will we have this bill that has been put
together behind closed doors with the most powerful three or four companies in America, the telephone companies who had nothing to do with the construction of the Internet?
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, on behalf of Congressman Rush, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Wynn), an able member of the subcommittee.
Mr. WYNN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the committee chairman for his leadership, the subcommittee chairman for his leadership, as well as Mrs. Blackburn of Tennessee who worked with me on the Video Choice Act which was somewhat of a precursor to this bill.
I want to say, first of all, that this bill is not about net neutrality. The Google crowd, the Internet crowd does not care about cable rates. But this bill is about cable rates. And what we know today is that cable rates are too high in America. We know that consumers are paying as much as 80 percent increases over the last years in cable rates, and so that is what this bill seeks to address. It addresses it by trying to create more competition. And there is no disagreement that if we had more
competition in video services we would have lower cable bills.
Now, there are new companies, telephone companies and other companies, that want to come into the market. But under current law, they have to negotiate hundreds of thousands of individual agreements with local governments. That is why we don't have more competition.
This bill creates a national franchise and says we can bring in new entrants to provide competitive services and lower prices. What happens with this? Well, we do protect the local communities because they still receive franchise fees from new entrants. We protect their rights to control their rights-of-way.
We also have antidiscrimination to protect against redlining. We have language that says that if you discriminate, you can and will be punished and penalized. So I think this is a very good bill that addresses the fundamental issue, which is cable rates.
Let me turn for a moment to net neutrality. Understand, there is only finite space within the network. Everybody can't travel at top speed at the same time, so there has to be some differentiation. And ultimately, the issue is who will pay. Will the consumer pay, or will the content providers pay? That is the Google and the Internet and the innovators that they talk about. Those innovators, those people would rather have the consumer pay if there has to be a differentiation, if you want ultra-high
speeds, if you want excessive amounts of the bandwidth.
I believe net neutrality is not a relevant issue here. I believe that we have a solid bill that addresses the fundamental concern, which is reducing cable rates. We have an opportunity to do something very good for the American people, and I think we ought to do it and pass the COPE bill.
Mr. CONAWAY. Mr. Chairman, rural America needs broadband now more than ever. The information society is in full swing with an abundant amount of choices and access to the infinite sources of information, yet there are those who may not have the same access to information and will therefore be left out in the cold.
As we move away from dial-up Internet to broadband via cable modem, DSL, satellite, and fiber-based networks, Congress should be enacting legislation that encourages broader network deployment. Without the proper economic incentives and regulatory environment, rural America will be left behind when the next generation networks are built.
That is why we must pass the COPE Act tonight. Not only does COPE open competition in the video market, but it also includes the proper regulatory light touch and the right incentives to [Page: H3557]
foster the deployment of advanced networks. More importantly, it creates incentives to build out these networks without the spending of government funds.
It is time to pass this bill and get broadband deployment moving in the right direction, the direction of rural America.
Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I thank the distinguished gentleman from Maryland for his comments.
I want to inquire of the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) and thank him for his leadership. We know the leadership you have given. We understand the dilemma I have here because I support programmatic funding that PEG provides as well. However, I think it is important that we have at least a language statement, if you will, about the importance of small, minority, women-owned businesses to be engaged in this superhighway and this new DSL and broadband.
Mr. Chairman, I yield 30 seconds to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey).
Mr. ENGEL. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the COPE Act. Fundamentally, it is all about promoting greater competition in the video service industry, what we often call cable, but is no longer limited to that delivery system.
We have all heard the complaints from our constituents about the rising cost of cable. For part of my district, the fact is there is no competitor to cable. Satellite TV signals can't magically go around tall buildings nor pass through them to reach someone on the other side. The COPE Act will speed competition into the video service industry and drive down prices.
I am also pleased with the VoIP provisions of the bill. I was an early proponent to require emergency 911 services for VoIP providers. I am also pleased that we cleaned up the rules for VoIP providers to interconnect, thus providing the same level playing field that C-LECs enjoyed. Finally, I was pleased to offer language requiring disabilities access with my colleague from Washington (Mr. Inslee). With the support of Chairman UPTON, we have ensured that disabled Americans will
be a full part of this broadband resolution.
We will consider a number of amendments today, some I will support because I believe that they will make this a better bill. I would have voted for the Baldwin and Solis amendments if they had been allowed to be put forth. Nevertheless, we start with a good base bill, and it will have my support on final passage regardless of which amendments pass. We have before us a bill that seeks to update our laws to keep pace with new technologies and new market realities.
Mr. OXLEY. Mr. Chairman, it seems like old times debating a telecommunications bill. It has been a while since I had that opportunity, and I see some familiar faces on both sides. I first want to congratulate my good friend from Michigan for his concerted efforts on this legislation as well as Chairman Barton and other members who have worked on this legislation.
This is a good solid follow-up of the 1996 Act. It recognizes market forces, it gets government out of picking winners and losers. I chair the Financial Service Committee now, and there have been some arguments about whether the net neutrality issue that the gentleman from Massachusetts will be offering will be a boon for the financial services industry. I am here to say that the financial services industry understands competition, they understand choice, they understand how markets work, and
the folks that are represented in that financial services community will benefit by this legislation without the Markey amendment, and that is what is important to keep in mind.
This has been a great effort. I congratulate again all those who have put this bill on the floor today.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 30 seconds.
Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank the distinguished chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Mr. Oxley, for his leadership and his statement that he just made. It is greatly appreciated and it I think enlightens the debate.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 1 minute at this time.
Mr. Chairman, let me explain one of the real problems with this bill. In testimony before the Commerce Committee on this legislation, I asked the head of the national cable industry what they would do once this bill passed, and the answer was quite revealing. They said that after this bill passes, since the telephone companies are going to go into the wealthy side of town in order to deploy their new broadband systems, that under the legislation they no longer had any responsibility to serve
the whole community. They had no responsibility to continue to upgrade on the other side of the town, which the cable industry is already serving, because every mayor always extracted that from every cable company as they came into town.
So we are going to wind up with a perverse situation where the cable industry on the poor side of town is able [Page: H3558]
to raise rates because the telephone companies won't promise to go there and actually compete against the cable company. And the Republicans oppose even having a debate on the House floor in order to accomplish that, and so we wind up with a situation where the wealthy people are going to have two competitors and have lower rates, and the poor
people are going to have only one company that is saying they are going to raise rates because there will be no competition. It is a perverse result for cable subscribers in America.
Ms. BEAN. Mr. Chairman, I thank Mr. Rush for this opportunity to speak, and I thank him and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their work on this bill. As a new Member of this body who brings 20 years of experience in the tech sector, I rise today to speak in support of H.R. 5252.
Many of our constituents have one option for cable TV and one price. Our constituents desire choice. I believe this bill will provide much-needed modernization of our telecommunications laws to provide for improved competition for video services and lower prices for consumers. By overhauling current rules and speeding the entry of competitors in the market, we encourage competition and provide our constituents with new choices and cheaper bills.
To keep America competitive in the global economy, telecommunications companies will be expected to invest heavily in infrastructure. This bill will spur investment in broadband networks that will help bring America up to speed with other nations who have jumped ahead of us in broadband capacity.
Some colleagues have raised legitimate concerns about how to streamline our laws while advancing new technologies. I am confident this bill will ensure consumer choice and preserve innovation on the Net, respect rights for municipalities while establishing a new source of revenue for them, and strictly prohibiting discriminatory practices like redlining.
I encourage support.
Mr. PICKERING. Mr. Chairman, I thank the chairman.
Having received an MBA from a great institution in the State of Texas, Baylor, I was taught that competition drives deployment, innovation, investment.
Why would the telephone companies have to go to both sides of the town? Because the cable companies are going with something called voiceover Internet, voice over cable systems, voice providers and other companies, into both sides of the town. And unless the telephone companies want to lose both sides of the town, they are going to have to go with video.
So more video choice, more voice choice, more investment, more innovation, greater competition. And that is why we will see benefits on all parts, in all parts of our country, and all sides of our cities and communities.
That is why this is a good bill. It makes a national framework, as it should do, as we go into an IP, Internet-based world. It is interstate. It is international. It should be done at the [Page: H3559]
FCC, not in a patchwork of entities all across the country, slowing deployment and investment.
I want to commend the great chairman from the Great State of Texas and the subcommittee chairman from Michigan, and I also want to thank our colleagues on the other side.
Ms. WATSON. Mr. Chairman, I stand in opposition to the fact that the provisions that are going to be considered do not contain any language that would guard against discrimination, discrimination as to where people live, redlining. And we want to be sure that when we go into restructuring where we place our cable lines, I want to be sure no community is left out.
Unless we can see that language in the bill, I cannot support it. Communications are too important, and I don't want the cable companies choosing the high-end communities and leaving the low-end communities out of the cable network.
So I would hope that if we do not get a provision in the bill, and it looks like we are not going to, that we vote against it and try all over again.
This will affect every area of my district, and many districts in this country, if we do not put provisions in there to eliminate redlining, to be sure we have antidiscrimination clauses in there, and be sure that people do not have to come to the FCC to get rulings when they find they are underserved. I would suggest that we vote against the bill.
Mr. MACK. Mr. Chairman, competition is the backbone of innovation. Competition has enabled the Internet and scores of new technologies to be introduced to the marketplace, and it has changed the way we live, work and play.
Mr. Chairman, the COPE Act will ensure that competition and innovation continue to flourish. It will eliminate needless government barriers and has shown that the expansion of new technology and innovation comes when competition is alive and well.
Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to vote in support of this piece of legislation. It will help drive prices down. It will help companies invest in future technology that will help make our lives better.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you, I want to thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to speak on this bill.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 1 1/2 minutes.
Mr. Chairman, here is the really perverse part of this. The telephone company is going to come into town, and they are going to start offering lower rates on the good part of town, as they are delivering the service.
The people on the other side of town, the poorer part of town, are going to say, hey, do we get the lower rates too in town? Because under the cable-negotiated agreement with the city, everyone got the same rate in town.
Well, the telephone company will not offer that same lower rate to the other part of the town, only to the people on the good part of town, which is where they are going. So we said to the majority, the Republicans, well, let's make sure everyone in town gets that lower rate, because now we know what the rate should be for that community, because they are offering it to the good side of town.
The Republicans say, oh, no, we are not going to give the lower rate to the poor side of town where the telephone company is not going to, because they are not going there. And the cable industry says, fine, we are going to raise rates on that side of town because the telephone company is telling us we are not going there.
So we are going to have again this crazy situation where they are going to the homes, and we are going to wind up with this perverse result where they are going to the good side of town, they are going to the good communities. They are going to have lower cable rates because they are going to have competition. And the telephone companies have told us over and over and over again they are not going to the other side of town.
They are not going to the poorer communities, and we object to any amendment by Democrats on the floor that will make us do the poor part of town, that will make us go to the other side of town. We are going to fight it and we are going to ask the Republicans to not even allow for a debate on the House floor that will help the people on the poor side of town get the lower rates.
That is what this bill at its heart is all about tonight, the ability of the telephone companies to cherry-pick the wealthiest families in America to have competing cable service.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, a couple of weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story headlined: ``U.S. lags behind in high speed Internet access, ranking slips to 12th spot among 30 nations.''
Today telecommunication providers offer a host of services, whether it be voice, data, or video. And this legislation, should it be enacted later this year like I think it will, will jump-start, jump-start that competition, as it will provide more competition, it will lower prices, probably in the range of $30 to $40 per household per month, nearly $400 for the year, and I have to tell you that that is great for America.
Now, over the last year we have had plenty of hearings, lots of witnesses, input from almost every sector. It has been a fair and open process from the start. And I commend my chairman, Joe Barton. He has done a magnificent job pulling together folks from all sides of the aisle, all different sides of the issues, to put together a bipartisan bill that we debate tonight.
Now, the document that we marked up in my subcommittee and then in full committee changed. It changed because of amendments that were debated and offered and accepted and voted on. And I have to tell you that after each step of that process, the bill was better. It was stronger and it was better. And the proof was in the pudding.
We passed the bill in subcommittee 27-4. We passed the bill in full committee, changed, 42-12. And I would note that when we introduced H.R. 5252, after the full committee markup process was completed, there were 15 Democrats from the Energy and Commerce Committee that asked that their names be listed as cosponsors.
Now, in some debate tonight we have talked about the cities, a question about right-of-way. Well, let us read the language in the bill. Page 19 says this: ``Nothing in this act affects the authority of a State or local government to manage, on a reasonable, competitively neutral, and nondiscriminatory basis, the public rights-of-way and easements that have been dedicated for compatible use.
That protects the cities with rights-of-way. We protect the cities with a revenue stream. Most of them today have about a 5 percent revenue from the receipts that are collected. We add to that. It will be 6 percent, because we guarantee that that extra percent is going to go to the community access channels, what we call the PEG channels, the Public, Education, Government channels.
In fact, some of the studies that have come out show that the cities will gain revenues in the neighborhood of perhaps as much as 30 percent. We added an anti-redline provision that was offered by our friend, Mr. Rush from Chicago. It was a great provision. It made the bill better. It was accepted, as I recall, on a voice vote.
The bottom line is this: if you are happy with the status quo, please vote ``no'' tonight. If you like cable rates going up, if you like the regulations, vote ``no.'' But if you want change, please vote ``yes.''
Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I thank the distinguished gentleman. I know this has been hard work for members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. This is another [Page: H3560]
giant step in telecommunications, and now with the focus on broadband.
I recall, Mr. Chairman, the 1996 opportunity, and in fact I recall many, many years ago before I was in Congress the opportunities that led to the creation of BET. I hope as we go forward that we will be able to focus on small, medium, women-owned, minority-owned businesses that may engage in the cable franchising business.
I think as we make our way to the Senate and this bill comes back to the House, more emphasis needs to be focused on those generating opportunities. We are seeking, of course, to open telecommunications, broadband to the world. And to do that, it is also important that small businesses have the opportunity, both in terms of the franchise fees, and both in terms of mentoring by larger companies, so I hope that in working with my colleagues on Energy and Commerce and through the Senate, we will
have the opportunity to put a focus on small, medium, women-owned and minority-owned businesses.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Chairman, this bill is a failure. It fails the challenge to ensure that this broadband technology will be deployed in every neighborhood in America. The Bell Companies oppose it, and the Republicans are not going to allow us to even have that debate here on the House floor.
Why is it important? Because in a post-GATT, post-NAFTA world, we have to make sure that every family and every child in every family has access to this high tech skillset which can only come from access to this broadband technology. The telephone companies do not want the responsibility to build out into the poor side of the town, the Republicans have not built that responsibility into the bill, and they have prohibited the Democrats from making that amendment. And their bill also fails the
Internet. It fails the nondiscriminatory history of the Internet which has required, which has made possible for entrepreneurs and individuals on a nondiscriminatory basis, to use the Internet.
We want to have a debate on net neutrality. All the Republicans are willing to give to the proponents of the Net neutrality, the central constitutional protection built into the Internet for the last 20 years, is 10 minutes. That is a disgrace. The whole way we are making this bill is really a tribute to the Republican control of Congress and their lack of willingness to have full and open debate on the most important post-GATT, post-NAFTA issues we could debate, the access to a 21st century
skillset and the ability for entrepreneurs to use the information superhighway to create the new jobs. I urge a ``no'' vote on final passage on this bill.