Clinton prepares own plan on communications

December 22, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Vice President Al Gore said yesterday that the Clinton administration endorses the "basic principles" of several telecommunications bills pending on Capitol Hill but still will unveil its own legislative package rewriting the Communications Act of 1934 early next year.

The vice president told the National Press Club in Washington that the administration's approach would strike a balance between the private sector's desire for deregulation and the public's interest in broad access to the developing national information infrastructure.

"We want to avoid creating a country of information haves and have-nots," a jet-lagged Mr. Gore said just hours after returning from a trip to the former Soviet Union and Germany.

The vice president cited several bills pending in Congress as "major steps forward." He named the Dingell-Brooks and Markey-Fields bills in the House and the Inouye-Danforth and Hollings bills in the Senate. All basically seek to increase competition by opening up lines of business to companies that had previously been barred from entry.

Mr. Gore said the administration is not asking that work on those bills be shelved, and he praised their congressional authors. "They've done a lot of the heavy lifting. They've achieved significant breakthroughs," he said.

The speech had been billed as an important statement of the administration's policies on the construction of the so-called information superhighway, but it turned out to be little more than a restatement of previous pronouncements.

Mr. Gore did offer some broad outlines of the administration's telecommunications policies, all of which parallel one or another of the pending congressional proposals.

He said the Clinton plan would stimulate private investment by encouraging businesses to build the national information infrastructure as soon as possible.

The vice president promised the plan would promote competition with policies that would prevent companies from subsidizing competitive services, such as video on demand, with revenues from basic phone service, and prohibit any one company from choking off the flow of information.

The vice president called for open access to the new network. He also called for a "regulatory safety net" to make sure that new information services become as readily available as the telephone service, which is used in almost 95 percent of U.S. homes. He also said that whatever law Congress enacts should be able to adapt to future technologies.

The lack of specific proposals indicated the administration is still struggling to agree on the details of a legislative package. A senior administration official said in a briefing that the vice president would disclose the specifics of the package -- including which pending legislation might be incorporated into it -- in a Jan. 11 speech in Los Angeles.

Mr. Gore compared the national information infrastructure -- basically high-capacity fiber-optic and coaxial cable phone links spanning the nation -- to the interstate highway system. But he stressed that this system would be built by the private sector.

The vice president promised greater "flexibility" in telecommunications regulation, but he also asserted the need for a strong government role.

Citing the sinking of the Titanic, when maritime radio communications were tied up by private messages while the ship was going down, Mr. Gore said "there are certain public needs that outweigh private interests."

The high-tech theme of the vice president's afternoon was underscored when Mr. Gore fielded questions submitted via the Internet, the worldwide computer network.

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