Should You Pay More for Internet Access?

By Ashdown, Sue | The Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

Should You Pay More for Internet Access?


Ashdown, Sue, The Christian Science Monitor


Federal regulators have wisely adopted a "hands off" approach to the Internet. Why? The Internet has been growing like crazy. Presumably, few Congressmen or federal bureaucrats are interested in leaving their fingerprints on changes that will upset the current regulatory framework.

Consumers and businesses have been the winners. Consumers have enjoyed low Internet rates without having to worry about per- minute charges. A thriving Internet has supported 2.5 million jobs and 50,000 companies.

Call it enlightened self-interest. While Internet tax and regulation schemes are floated from time to time in Washington, they rarely find anyone in Congress who's willing to risk killing the golden goose. Right now, though, there's a bill in Congress that would upset the current regulatory framework, and could increase consumer Internet costs by up to 33 percent. The worst part: The Baby Bells would keep the money. Obviously, the nation's dominant phone companies support the bill.

It's unusual to have Internet executives, consumer groups, and state regulators all on the same side of an issue. But a range of business and consumer interests, including Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Information Technology Association of America, and the American Internet Service Providers Association have lined up to oppose the proposed changes.

The state regulators association called the legislation a "special exemption for the Bell companies" and warned Congress not to pass the bill. Frankly, none of us thought Congress would even consider the bill. We were wrong.

The Baby Bells have a leg up. Sponsored by Bill Tauzin (R) of Louisiana, "The Reciprocal Compensation Adjustment Act of 2000," or HR 4445, has cleared the House Telecommunications, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittees. It's well on its way to becoming a law, which could happen by Congress's scheduled adjournment on Oct. 6.

When Baby Bell customers use the network of a competing phone company to reach their Internet service providers (ISP), the Baby Bells are required to help pay for that call. …

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