House OKs phone competition bill

Revised measure passes after compromise ends Verizon's opposition

March 26, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates passed legislation last night intended to speed the introduction of competition to the local telephone market.

Passed on a vote of 134-2, the bill had been amended over the weekend to reflect a compromise between the bill's advocates and Verizon Communications Inc., the incumbent local telephone company and a political powerhouse in Annapolis.

After proponents agreed to remove a "code of conduct" section that Verizon opposed, the telephone company and its potential competitors were able to negotiate an agreement.

"We're absolutely 100 percent supportive of the bill as amended," said Verizon lobbyist Sean Looney.

The bill's sponsor, Del. Joan F. Stern, expressed satisfaction with the result, noting that the revised legislation retains a so-called "rocket docket" provision that would speed the resolution of disputes between Verizon and its potential rivals.

Those companies, known as "competitive local exchange carriers" (CLECs), have complained that their disputes with Verizon over interconnection issues can languish before the Public Service Commission for years.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, sets a limit of 180 days for the PSC to resolve complaints by one company against another.

Stern, a Montgomery County Democrat, said many of the potential competitors are smaller companies that have been economically squeezed while disputes go unresolved.

"The CLECS can't afford to sit out there and wait," she said.

Seth Maiman, a lobbyist for WorldCom Inc., expressed disappointment at losing the code of conduct but said the 180-day limit would be "helpful."

"There have been problems of things just languishing for long periods of time," he said.

Looney said the amended bill also clarifies that any rules the PSC adopts to spur competition must be in compliance with federal telecommunications law.

Valerie Evans, an executive of one of the smaller competitors, said she believes the bill strengthens the commission's hand in promoting competition. "It reaffirms that Verizon will be subject to the regulatory oversight, which we believe is significant," said Evans, vice president of California-based Covad Communications Group.

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