NEXT STOP FOR TELECOM BILLS: SENATE

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The U.S. Senate late last week stood as the only roadblock to full passage this year of legislation opening up the information superhighway.

On June 28, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly endorsed bills that would allow telephone companies to offer video programming, cable companies to offer phone service and the seven regional Baby Bells to deliver long-distance service.

The ease with which the House passed the two pieces of legislation-by votes of 423 to 4 and 423 to 5-contrasted sharply with the ongoing futility of the Senate Commerce Committee, which continues to labor to come up with a version that its members will approve and send to the Senate floor.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he hoped to massage a bill through committee and to the floor following the Fourth of July congressional recess.

The bill that eventually clears the committee "will, I believe, preserve universal access to phone service and require the development of competition in local telephone markets before the Bell companies are allowed into long distance," said Sen. Hollings, a key architect of the bill currently under committee review.

Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, said the legislation that was approved by the House last week overhauls national communications policy and was "the most important economic legislation passed this year."

The first bill, sponsored by Reps. Jack Brooks (D., Texas) and John Dingell (D., Mich.), phases out restrictions preventing regional Bell operating companies from offering long-distance service and manufacturing telecommunications equipment.

The second bill, sponsored by Reps. Markey and Jack Fields (R., Texas), allows cable companies to offer phone service and phone companies to offer cable within their service areas.

"What we are doing is laying the foundation for the economy of the 21st century," Rep. Markey said. "Many predict this industry, which is already worth half a trillion dollars, will be worth two or three trillion by the end of the decade. Millions of jobs are at stake in these bills."

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