Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Broadband Measure Advances in House

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Broadband Measure Advances in House

Article excerpt

A bill that proponents said would "effectively deregulate broadband" in Oklahoma passed the state House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 2796, by Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus, and Rep. Bill Case, R-Midwest City, prevents the Oklahoma Corporation Commission from issuing any order, adopting any rule, or otherwise taking any action regulating a provider of high-speed Internet access "unless the regulation is imposed equally and uniformly upon all providers of high-speed Internet access or broadband service."

Currently, only broadband service provided via Southwestern Bell's digital subscriber line, or DSL, falls under the oversight of the commission. The commission does not regulate wireless Internet providers or cable broadband service.

As a result, the bill effectively repeals the agency's ability to restrict Southwestern Bell's activity in the broadband market.

In the past year, Southwestern Bell has installed dozens of "neighborhood broadband centers" in the metro area and the company had plans to install many more.

The deployment was initiated in response to consumer demand for faster Internet service. Due to technological limitations, customers must live or work within 17,500 cable feet of a central office or neighborhood broadband center to receive DSL service, making the installation of the neighborhood broadband centers vital to the expansion of broadband service.

DSL allows Internet speeds that are as much as 200 times faster than a dial-up modem. The Internet connection is always "on" and also allows simultaneous use of the phone.

It takes about two months to install a single neighborhood broadband gateway and costs Southwestern Bell about $150,000 per gateway.

However, the company slowed its deployment after an Illinois regulatory agency similar to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ruled that Southwestern Bell had to "unbundle" its neighborhood gateways, giving competitors access to the infrastructure for a fee.

Although the federal telecommunications deregulation act required Southwestern Bell to provide access to its infrastructure to other telephone companies for a fee, that mandate deals only with voice service, according to Southwestern Bell officials.

Because the Illinois ruling lumped data transmission and voice transmission together, Southwestern Bell's competitors were given access to the company's broadband infrastructure. Shortly after the ruling, the company halted its broadband deployment in Illinois.

To avoid a similar situation in Oklahoma, Southwestern Bell officials asked state lawmakers to pass House Bill 2796.

Jim Epperson, president of Southwestern Bell Oklahoma, said the bill would not affect phone rates or existing interconnection agreements with competitors.

However, Tom Riley, executive vice president of Chickasaw Holding Co. …

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