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House passes Internet deregulation bill despite pending action by the FCC

April 17, 2003
By: David Bryan
State Capital Bureau
Links: hb 142 sb 221

JEFFERSON CITY - While some telecommunications companies await action by the Federal Communication Commission, the House of Represenatives passed a measure Thursday deregulating high-speed Internet access provided by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SBC).

The bill, passed by a vote of 106 yes and 36 no, would essentially do the same as an order from the FCC, which lawmakers said they expect at any time.

But Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County said he is concerned that a state law passed before the FCC would rule might "exceed the scope of the Federal Government."

"Moving before the FCC order, they are not acting in the interest of the state," Pratt said. "We are shutting our eyes to what the FCC is going to do."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tom Dempsey R-St. Charles, said, however, that the FCC has urged states to continue to write laws addressing deregulation.

"We simply can't wait for the Federal Government to act," Dempsey said.

Currently, local Internet companies are not regulated by the state, but the practices of companies, such as SBC, that provide both Internet and telephone services are regulated by Missouri's Public Service Commission.

The House's measure would end regulation of Internet services by SBC.

Dempsey said lifting regulation of SBC's Internet service would allow it to fairly compete with those companies that are not regulated.

"We must recognize that we as legislators have a responsibility to provide a level playing field," Dempsey said.

Opponents of the mesaure said allowing SBC to compete with local companies would result in SBC monopolizing the high-speed Internet industry in Missouri.

According to Pratt 12 other states have defeated this bill this year, and most states that are currently considering this legislation have decided to wait until the FCC rules on the issue.