Lawmakers to Urge FCC to Delay Phone Changes

Times Staff Writers

Believing that local phone service competition is at risk, 20 members of the House are expected to urge the Federal Communications Commission today to hold up a major regulatory review until Congress can consider the effect of pending proposals.

The 20, including several top leaders in both parties, say in a letter to be delivered to the agency today that they are increasingly concerned that FCC ideas for changing the rules could raise rates and cause "great harm to hundreds of small businesses and millions of American consumers." The Times obtained a copy of the letter Thursday.

Changes that affect rates would undermine the intent of Congress in passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was designed to spur competition, says the letter signed by Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Thomas M. Davis (R-Va.) and others. Californians who signed the letter were Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Jane Harman (D-Venice), Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Atherton) and Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara).

Changing the rules, which allow competitors of SBC Communications Inc. and the other three regional Bell companies to lease Bell equipment at deeply discounted wholesale prices, could force competitors to cut services or quit altogether, the representatives said.

"If competitors are no longer available, consumers will have no choice but to take service from the Bell companies, which will have no incentive to offer lower rates," the letter said.

The letter comes a week after the five FCC commissioners testified at a congressional hearing on their triennial review of the competition rules established under the 1996 law. It is aimed particularly at FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, who has questioned the need for such rules.

"We spent a lot of time setting up tests to make sure that as deregulation proceeded, there would be competition," Lofgren said Thursday. "It looks from what Powell has said that he is going to some lengths to dismantle those efforts."

The letter asks for a written response by Jan. 31 to explain how the agency plans to address the representatives' concerns.

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