Competitive Telecom Access<@VM>Stepping up H-1B Lobbying<@VM>Clock Ticking on Open Access

by Kerry Gildea

The Information Technology Association of America on Aug. 31 asked Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard to open the "digital opportunity" to apartment dwellers and tenants in multioccupant buildings by allowing competitive building access to long distance telecommunications carriers.

An ITAA letter to Kennard and the FCC commissioners said that competitive carriers do not have access to tenants in commercial and residential buildings in a timely, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner. Incumbent carriers, said the ITAA, should not be able to enjoy current preferential access by virtue of a pre-existing monopoly position.

"Right now, less than two percent of America's tenants ? apartment dwellers and small businesses ? are able to choose their local telecommunications provider for high-speed access," ITAA President Harris Miller said in the letter.The Software and Information Industry Association this month urged all 535 House and Senate lawmakers to increase H-1B visas.

In Sept. 7 letters, the SIIA called for immediate passage of the Helping to Improve Technology Education and Achievement Act (H.R. 3983), and the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (S. 2045).

S. 2045 would temporarily increase the number of H-1B visas to 195,000 and direct the majority of H-1B application fees to programs that promote education and technology training for U.S. students and workers. In 2000, 115,000 visas were allotted.

"Although new training programs help ensure that key jobs are filled by American workers and will eventually help us rely less on H1-B visas over the long-term, they will take about five years to have a real impact on domestic companies," SIIA President Ken Wasch told lawmakers.Because it is unlikely that Congress will have time this year to act on legislation to mandate open access, some lawmakers are urging the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to proceed with a comprehensive rule-making on open access that applies to all technologies offering high-speed Internet service.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rick Boucher, D-Va., sent a letters to FCC Chairman William Kennard and FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky on Sept. 7 recommending that the FCC refrain from placing open-access conditions on any single merger request, including the America Online-Time Warner merger, until the rule-making is complete.

"We understand that the Commissions are giving consideration to placing conditions on the merger related to the issue of 'open access' for Internet Service Providers," they said. "We are concerned that the application of such conditions without a comprehensive federal policy in place on this important issue could have detrimental effects on the current Internet marketplace and prove destructive to the fundamental structure of the Internet."

Goodlatte and Boucher said the legislation they introduced in March 1999 uses existing antitrust law to encourage the private sector to implement their own open access policies. Because not enough time remains to pass the bill during this 106th Congress, the lawmakers called for the FCC to "act immediately to formulate effective open access policies that apply to all of the various technologies offering high-speed Internet access."

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