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House passes high-speed Internet bill

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma House passed legislation Monday that addresses the regulation of broadband Internet services, but state regulators said the measure could eventually deregulate the growing service.

The measure would prohibit the Corporation Commission from regulating a high-speed Internet access provider ``unless the regulation is imposed equally and uniformly upon all providers of high-speed Internet access service or broadband service.''

Jim Epperson, president of Southwestern Bell Oklahoma, said the bill will permit the company to expand its broadband service, known as digital subscriber lines, which allows Internet speeds up to 200 times faster than a dial-up modem.

Oklahoma has DSL users in 39 Oklahoma communities and has more rural users than any other state. The Corporation Commission regulates Southwestern Bell's service but does not regulate wireless Internet providers or cable broadband service.

``If your competition is hampered by regulations and you're not hampered, it's a good thing for you,'' Epperson said.

Southwestern Bell slowed its deployment of DSL service after Illinois regulators ordered the company to unbundle facilities it uses to provide the service. The ruling gave competitors in that state access to the infrastructure for a fee.

Although federal regulators have required the company to provide access to its infrastructure to competing telephone companies, the ruling involves only voice service.

Epperson said the Oklahoma legislation is designed to avoid a similar ruling in the state.

``It keeps a bad thing from happening,'' Epperson said. The company believes it should not be punished by having its investments in new technology turned over to a competitor.

``It would help make sure that technology companies continue to invest a lot of money in Oklahoma,'' he said.

But Joyce Davidson, acting director of the Corporation Commission's public utilities division, said regulators are concerned that the measure will effectively deregulate broadband service providers.

``Our basic concern is the way they have defined high-speed Internet access service,'' Davidson said.

She said the commission wants to make sure that the legislation does no harm to voice traffic. Although broadband services are not regulated by the commission, broadband facilities are regulated to assure equal access.

Some of Southwestern Bell's competitors have charged that the measure would halt competition in the broadband market.

The bill, House Bill 2796, passed 90-6 and was sent to the Senate for consideration.
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