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Telecom Execs Seek Hands-Off Policy From Congress

The U.S. Congress and Senate began to come to grips with the aging Telecommunications Act of 1996 this week, as executives from leading telecom-equipment makers asked for relief from regulation and taxes for Internet services.

Executives from Alcatel SA, Lucent Technologies, Qualcomm Inc., Siemens AG, and Motorola Inc. testified before Congress, while Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said in a meeting that his Senate Commerce Committee will examine ways to stop spam and whether Web-telephony services should contribute to the Universal Service Fund (USF).

"Many of the technologies that drive today's networks are fundamentally different than those that drove networks when the Act was developed," said Lucent's chief executive, Patricia Russo, in a statement, as she referred to the 1996 legislation, which is widely regarded as obsolete. She addressed her comments to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet.

Another speaker, Motorola chief executive Ed Zander, said in a prepared statement: "We ask Congress to establish a unified and rationalized set of laws for all IP-enabled services. . . . A unified, deregulatory approach will provide needed certainty and pour rocket fuel on the investment fire that is burning in our industry."

Alluding to the USF, which uses telecom taxes to provide phone service to rural areas, Congressman Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement: "We must also ensure [that] affordable broadband reaches remote areas of the country, where competitive deployment may not occur."