Editorial: Broadband bills, narrow minds in D.C.

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

It’s hard to believe any of the lawmakers pushing broadband legislation in Washington have the best interests of consumers in mind.
Each of the many broadband bills materializing on Capitol Hill seems designed to benefit one of two powerful lobbies-the Baby Bells on one side or AT&T and the long-distance carriers on the other. In most cases, the driving force behind the bill is a lawmaker who has received generous contributions from either long-distance carriers or Baby Bells-or both.
The highest-profile measure is an effort by Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., to ease restrictions on the Bells to help them compete with cable companies for the lucrative broadband market. Both congressmen have ties to the Bells, which contributed heavily to their campaigns during the 1999-2000 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.
On the other side of the equation, AT&T has lined up fierce Senate opposition to the Tauzin-Dingell measure through its ties with, among others, Senate leaders Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
As is so often the case in Washington, public interest seems to have been lost in the shuffle. And with an issue as complicated and technical as charting a course for the future of broadband, it’s hard to get Joe and Jane Citizen fired up enough to fight for their own interests.
But clearly, much is at stake in the broadband debate. Congress should proceed cautiously with the Tauzin-Dingell bill, as it should with rival legislation. The best policy will be found somewhere in the middle, a compromise between the desires of the Baby Bells and those of AT&T-a compromise that, for all the corporate politicking, might benefit the consumer after all.
Even with two big lobbies lined up against each other on the broadband issue, compromise is hardly a pipe dream. The beauty of having two powerful, free-spending adversaries going after each other is that sometimes they cancel each other out and democracy-even if it seems like an afterthought-can prevail.