WASHINGTON-Wireless resellers, who’ve had trouble drumming up support in Congress beyond that offered by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, may have found a new ally as the House-Senate conference on telecommunications reform gets underway.

His name is Martin Hoke, a second-term Republican congressman from Ohio’s 10th district and Cleveland’s biggest cellular agent during the 1980s.

Hoke, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, joins Barton as one of the 43 conferees (34 from the House and 11 from the Senate) attempting to reconcile very similar House and Senate telecommunications reform bills that President Clinton has threatened to veto.

The legislation is designed to remove regulatory barriers and foster competition in local telephone, long-distance telephone and cable TV markets. Congress applied the same approach to the wireless telecommunications industry in 1993 legislation.

At the first meeting of conferees late last month, Hoke-referencing his cellular background-spoke up in support of a strong resale policy in telecommunications reform legislation and said that in states where cellular resale was regulated “consumers have been served best.”

The cellular industry disagrees, saying mobile telephone service rates are highest in California where regulation has been heavy handed.

The FCC, following the 1993 congressional mandate, has pre-empted most state regulation of commercial wireless carriers.

Contacted after the meeting, Hoke said he was unaware of heretofore unsuccessful efforts by Barton to require wireless carriers to provide switched resale or unbundled interconnected resale. But he said he planned to contact Barton, a senior member of the House Commerce Committee and chairman of that panel’s oversight and investigations subcommittee.

Hoke said he favors resale generally as a mechanism to drive competition, noting it is as important for wireless as it is for local landline and long-distance markets.

Wireless telephony firms support airtime resale, which the Federal Communications Commission requires today, but do not believe carriers should be forced to unbundle their networks or that resellers should be guaranteed the right to install their own switches. The arrival of new personal communications services licensees, argue carriers, will bring added facilities-based competition to the two cellular operators in each market. A requirement for switched or unbundled resale could undermine the buildout of new wireless network infrastructure, they add.

The FCC largely shares those views.

Yet, there’s more than just resale on the political radar screen of the wireless telecommunications industry as the House-Senate conference progresses.

The antenna siting amendment, co-authored by Reps. Scott Klug, R-Wis., and Thomas Manton, D-N.Y., is expected to be revised along the lines laid out by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., during House floor debate on telecommunications reform in August.

Instead of crafting a national policy through an FCC negotiated rulemaking as envisioned in the Klug-Manton amendment, antenna siting would be guided by various principles in which local zoning boards continue to determine where new antennas are erected without unreasonable delay. But planning commissions could not prevent their placement altogether.

“It has [the FCC’s role] got to be removed,” said Elizabeth Frazee, an aide to Goodlatte.

Moreover, local governments would be prohibited from regulating antenna siting on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions and favoring one wireless carrier over another.

It is estimated that 100,000 antennas will be installed in coming years with the rollout of PCS. The industry fears the patchwork of local zoning regulations will stifle the development of next-generation pocket telephone networks.

In addition, the wireless telecommunications industry wants to ensure that as conferees mesh House and Senate bills, wireless carriers are exempted from interconnection and other common carrier obligations directed at local landline telephone monopolies.

Larry Pressler, R-S.D., chairman of Senate Commerce Committee and chief sponsor of telecommunications reform legislation, is heading the House-Senate telecommunications conference committee. Staffs from both houses are meeting three times a week. Republican leaders of Congress hope to have a bill on President Clinton’s desk by Thanksgiving. Others predict negotiations surrounding the overhaul of the 61-year-old telecommunications laws will take longer.

“I have every confidence this conference committee will soon reach agreement on a comprehensive telecommunication reform bill,” said Pressler.


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