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BILL WOULD CREATE FEDERAL SITE GUIDELINES

WASHINGTON-The House telecommunications subcommittee last week approved creating an industry-government panel to craft federal antenna siting guidelines and temporarily derailed a wireless resale proposal to regulate commercial mobile radio carriers like regional Bell telephone companies.

The antenna siting measure, offered by Scott Klug, R-Wis., and cosponsored by Thomas Manton, D-N.Y., was added to telecommunications reform legislation that passed the subcommittee 24-5.

The bill, spearheaded by Commerce Committee head Thomas Bliley, R-Va., and designed to allow local telephone companies, cable TV operators and long-distance carriers to compete against one another, goes before the full committee this Wednesday.

“This is the beginning of a true development of landmark, historic, watershed legislation that propels us into the 21st century, moving us from an industrial society to an information society,” said Jack Fields, R-Texas, chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee.

A companion telecommunications bill penned by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler, R-S.D., which does not include an antenna siting provision, is poised for floor action soon.

The prospect of the GOP-Congress passing sweeping telecommunications legislation this year is uncertain given the breadth of sharp differences among lawmakers, industry groups and the White House, as well as time constraints of the Republicans’ ambitious legislative agenda.

The Clinton administration, for example, wants the Justice Department to have a role during the telecommunications industry’s transition from a regulatory to a competitive environment.

Neither Bliley’s nor Pressler’s bill include new responsibilities for Justice, yet the department would have antitrust oversight in a competing telecommunications bill pushed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Last year, sweeping telecommunications legislation made it easily through the House but died in the Senate.

The inclusion of the Klug amendment in Bliley’s bill represents a major victory for the wireless telecommunications industry, which lobbied vigorously for legislation out of fear that local zoning boards around the country could delay or prevent the construction of more than 100,000 cellular and personal communications services transmitter towers in coming years.

But it required a mid-course change in lobbying strategy and some 11th hour maneuvering to secure the amendment. Initially, industry’s tack was to seek federal pre-emption of local zoning authority. But given the federalist theme of the Republican revolution that forced Democrats to cede control of the House and Senate after last fall’s midterm elections, that course of action failed to meet the political smell test and forced lobbyists to try a different approach.

Bliley, in an interview with RCR to be published in full next month, expressed a clear distaste for government interference in local affairs. “I don’t believe that it is a function of the U.S. Congress to get into local zoning,” Bliley declared.

Nonetheless, Bliley was among a bipartisan throng of subcommittee lawmakers that voted to require the Federal Communications Commission to convene a negotiated rulemaking committee, comprised of representatives from local and state governments, industry and public-safety agencies, to fashion a national policy for antenna siting.

Final rules would go into effect six months after the bill’s enactment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, withdrew an amendment that would have imposed interconnection, unbundling, resale and other common carrier obligations on commercial wireless carriers.

It is unclear whether Barton had the votes necessary to clear the initiative in subcommittee and how his desire to promote wireless resale will (or will not) be accommodated between now and this week’s full committee markup of telecommunications legislation.

“We’re going to try to work something out,” said David Gusky, executive director of the National Wireless Resellers Association.

Gusky contends open access to wireless networks will increase competition and lead to lower rates for consumers.

Edward Markey, D-Mass., ranking minority member of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said such a requirement would devalue PCS licenses bought in the recent auction and licenses that will be bid away in upcoming auctions. Added common carrier regulations, according to Markey, would also chill investment in next-generation pocket telephone systems.

Failure to resurrect the Barton amendment or anything like it would be a big blow to cellular resellers and giant firms like MCI Communications Corp. and Time Warner Inc., whose strategy is to resell wireless service rather than compete for licenses in spectrum auctions.

A major thrust of lobbying by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and the Personal Communications Industry Association has been to persuade legislators that the wireless telecommunications industry will be competitive and therefore should be treated differently than monopoly landline telephone companies in telecommunications reform legislation.

The Clinton administration, for example, wants the Justice Department to have a role during the telecommunications industry’s transition from a regulatory to a competitive environment.

Neither Bliley’s nor Pressler’s bill include new responsibilities for Justice, yet the department would have antitrust oversight in a competing telecommunications bill pushed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Last year, sweeping telecommunications legislation made it easily through the House but died in the Senate.

It is unclear whether Barton had the votes necessary to clear the initiative in subcommittee and how his desire to promote wireless resale will (or will not) be accommodated between now and this week’s full committee markup.

The inclusion of the Klug amendment in Bliley’s bill represents a major victory for the wireless telecommunications industry, which lobbied vigorously for legislation out of fear that local zoning boards around the country could delay or prevent the construction of more than 100,000 cellular and personal communications services transmitter towers in coming years.

But it required a mid-course change in lobbying strategy and some 11th hour maneuvering to secure the amendment. Initially, industry’s tack was to seek federal pre-emption of local zoning authority. But given the federalist theme of the Republican revolution that forced Democrats to cede control of the House and Senate after last fall’s midterm elections, that course of action failed to meet the political smell test and forced lobbyists to try a different approach.

Bliley, in an interview with RCR to be published in full next month, expressed a clear distaste for government interference in local affairs. “I don’t believe that it is a function of the U.S. Congress to get into local zoning,” Bliley declared.

Nonetheless, Bliley was among a bipartisan throng of subcommittee lawmakers that voted to require the Federal Communications Commission to convene a negotiated rulemaking committee, comprised of representatives from local and state governments, industry and public-safety agencies, to fashion a national policy for antenna siting.

Final rules would go into effect six months after the bill’s enactment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, withdrew an amendment that would have imposed interconnection, unbundling, resale and other common carrier obligations on commercial wireless carriers.

It is unclear whether Barton had the votes necessary to clear the initiative in subcommittee and how his desire to promote wireless resale will (or will not) be accommodated between now and this week’s full committee markup of telecommunications legislation.

“We’re going to try to work something out,” said David Gusky, executive director of the National Wireless Resellers Association.

Gusky contends open access to wireless networks will increase competition and lead to lower rates for consumers.

Edward Markey, D-Mass., ranking minority member of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said such a requirement would devalue PCS licenses bought in the recent auction and licenses that will be bid away in upcoming auctions. Added common carrier regulations, according to Markey, would also chill investment in next-generation pocket telephone systems.

Failure to resurrect the Barton amendment or anything like it would be a big blow to cellular resellers and giant firms like MCI Communications Corp. and Time Warner Inc., whose strategy is to resell wireless service rather than compete for licenses in spectrum auctions.

A major thrust of lobbying by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and the Personal Communications Industry Association has been to persuade legislators that the wireless telecommunications industry will be competitive and therefore should be treated differently than monopoly landline telephone companies in telecommunications reform legislation.

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