TECH Leaders Battle Over Broadband

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) _ Verizon Communications promoted less government regulation and rival AT&T Corp. campaigned for better enforcement of current rules in a debate over the best way to provide high-speed Internet access to consumers.

Tuesday's give-and-take was the focus of the final day of the Progress & Freedom Foundation's annual Aspen summit for technology industry leaders, who believe the rapid rollout of high-speed Internet access will play a crucial part in lifting the economy out of its slump.

The problem has been agreeing on how to get there.

Verizon senior vice president Tom Tauke told participants the government must adopt a national broadband policy to erase doubts about how high-speed Internet access is regulated.

``There's a huge amount of uncertainty and if there's anything that deters investment it's uncertainty,'' Tauke said.

Central to Tauke's proposal was minimum regulation of telephone lines, meaning that companies like his would not have to make Internet equipment available to rivals. He proposed leaving the cable industry, which has most of the market for high-speed Internet, free of regulation.

Tauke cited studies that show fully deployed broadband could generate $500 billion annually.

Verizon and other Baby Bells are pushing for federal legislation that would make it easier for them to carry long-distance data traffic and relieve them of obligations to make their new equipment available to rivals.

Tauke said some equipment could be opened up at market prices, but in current conditions, regulations made it impossible to return investment in broadband infrastructure. He acknowledged that getting rid of regulation was impossible, but suggested limiting it to voice, not data.

As quickly as they were presented, Tauke's suggestions were rejected by AT&T President David Dorman, who said monopolies would be the inevitable result if the legislation Verizon advocates passes.

He said the Bells would have full control over digital subscriber lines, or DSL, which would quash competition and the expansion of broadband.

``The Bells did not get to the top of the heap because they are innovators,'' Dorman said. ``In a world of Porches and Ferraris, the Bells could be selling consumers a Yugo _ with no reverse.''