WASHINGTON-While congressional Republican leaders late last week signaled problems with landmark telecommunications reform legislation, the wireless telecommunications industry declared victory after securing antenna siting, long-distance access and other provisions that keep the deregulatory gains of 1993 intact.
Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), speaker of the House, said he and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) had “some concern about some pieces of the bill.” Gingrich said he wanted to meet Wednesday with top House and Senate lawmakers to go over the bill.
Dole added, “There are a number of problems with the bill that could have been resolved a different way,” citing “spectrum giveaway to broadcasters” as one of them.
Those objections as well as unresolved issues in the Republicans’ budget battle with the White House could keep Congress from voting on the telecommunications bill this week.
Despite the latest dust-up, Congress is expected to pass a sweeping overhaul of the Communications Act of 1934 early this year.
President Clinton now is likely to sign it as a result of concessions made to him and key Democrats by top GOP conferees. The administration threatened to veto the measure, which until recently it considered bad for consumers and competition.
Vice President Al Gore, apparently trying to claim credit on behalf of the White House, sought out major news media to declare “victory for the American economy and the American consumer with the bipartisan agreement to create a telecommunications industry for the 21st century in a way that will lower prices, increase and improve services in telecommunications.”
The vice president’s remarks late last month rankled House Republicans, who believe the deal cut between the administration and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.)-overseer of the telecommunications conference-House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) makes the bill too regulatory.
The wireless industry supports the telecommunications conference report.
“We’re very pleased with the conference’s treatment of the issues,” said Thomas Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.
Jay Kitchen, president of the Personal Communications Industry Association, said the new law “will speed in a fair and orderly manner the delivery of wireless services to American consumers, businesses and industries, balanced with the legitimate and appropriate functions of state and local governments.”
The measure, crafted to enable local telephone companies, long-distance and cable-TV markets to compete with each other, sets federal policy for antenna siting and long-distance wireless access. Competitive wireless carriers would be exempt from interconnection and other common carrier requirements imposed on regional Bell telephone companies.
The bill also overturns the Justice Department’s finding that AirTouch Communications Inc. is subject to the same restrictions as the seven regional Bell telephone firms that were divested by AT&T Corp.