Jacking in from the Policy port:
Vice President Gore today outlined the Administration's plan for revamping the regulatory regime that will guide the converging telecommunications industry into the next century.
Gore said the Administration will propose lifting all restrictions on local telephone companies imposed during the breakup of AT&T, allowing them to enter the long distance and manufacturing markets.
But buried deep in his speech, in a single ominous sentence, Gore made a pledge that is sure to a chill into privacy advocates everywhere: "We'll help law enforcement agencies thwart criminals and terrorists who might use advanced telecommunications to commit crimes." In laymen's terms: We're fucked.
Gore didn't elaborate on his statement, but his comment hinted that the White House will throw its full behind two of the most controversial policies the Clinton Administration inherited from the Bush presidency: The FBI Digital Wiretap Proposal and the so-called "Clipper Chip," government mandated encryption program.
Both policies have been publicly trashed by the computer and telecommunications industry as well as civil liberty groups.
The White House is currently working to overhaul the entire U.S. security policy. Earlier this year, in a little noticed speech, FBI Dir. Freeh renewed his push for the ill-conceived Digital Wiretap proposal. It now appears that the White House will back that proposal when it issues new security guidelines due sometime in the Summer.
Changing the Playing Field
Gore also challenged the nation to bring every classroom and library online by the year 2000. He outlined 5 broad principles for restructuring the telecommunications industry, leading to a National Information Infrastructure:
Gore said the Administration's plan would "clear from the road the wreckage of outdated regulations and allow a free-flowing traffic of ideas and commerce." Administration plan would allow telephone companies to get into cable business and let cable companies into the telephone business, preempting state regulations that for the most part ban such businesses.
Although the White House plan allows local telephone companies to provide video, they must also allow any programmer access to those video delivery systems on nondiscriminatory basis. The plan also seeks to stop telephone companies from buying cable systems in the areas where they offer telephone service. But the plan also gives the FCC the authority to revamp that rule within 5 years if "sufficient competition" has risen.
The plan also would implement a new flexible regulatory regime called Title VII that encourages firms to provide broadband, switched digital transmission services. Like the Cable reregulation act, the FCC will have the ability to provide for rate regulation on these new companies until "competition is established."
One of the trickiest issues facing the Administration was how to define and ensure the concept of Universal Service. The White House plan proposes to make that policy "an explicit objective the Communications Act" in order to make sure that advanced information services are available to rural and low-income urban areas. But the Administration bailed on how to insure the concept, opting to lay that burden at the feet of the FCC. Also, all telecommunications providers, not merely telephone companies as is the current policy, will have to start contributing to universal access subsidies. But the FCC will be responsible for determining a kind of "sliding scale" for how much each company will be required to pay.
In fact, if smaller firms can't pony up the cash to help out with the universal service commitment, they can make "in-kind" contributions instead. This might be in the form of free service to school, hospitals, etc.