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Rally to protest broadband bill

Opponents of a broadband communications bill will stage a rally on Capitol Hill this weekend in a squabble over the delivery of high-speed Internet services in the United States.

Opponents of a broadband communications bill will be staging a rally on Capitol Hill this weekend in a squabble over the delivery of high-speed Internet services in the United States.

Critics of the proposed legislation, known as the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, or H.R. 1542, are scheduled to hold what they are calling the Internet Freedom Rally on Sunday afternoon on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol Building. They say that the measure would, among other things, allow local phone companies to enter the long-distance data-services market without opening their local networks to rivals.

Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee asked that the bill, which it gave an unfavorable recommendation to the full House of Representatives, require antitrust approval before local Bell companies such as Verizon Communications and BellSouth be allowed to offer long-distance data services.

Backers of the bill say that it will provide market-based incentives for the rapid delivery of advanced telecommunications offerings such as high-speed data services, Internet backbone services and Internet access services.

The Bell companies have said that competitive data-services providers would still be able to connect to their local phone networks and lease lines.

The communications industry forum, which opposes the bill, said in a posting on its Web site that the rally will help to promote privacy on the Internet and to keep Internet telephony free of regulation. Another fear is that if local phone companies aren't required to open their data networks to rivals, it might be difficult for Internet service providers (ISPs) or others to continue offering services to customers.

Long-distance carriers including AT&T and Sprint also have spoken out against the measure.

In April, opponents banded together to voice their worries to Washington, including the concern that local phone companies would lose their Telecom Act incentive to open up their networks to competitors. The Bells can earn the right to send both data and voice long-distance if they can prove to the Federal Communications Commission that they have unbundled their networks.

SBC Communications recently won approval to provide long-distance phone service in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, while Verizon got the thumbs-up to provide the service in New York and Massachusetts.