Measure Insuring Schools Access to 'Information Highway' Dies

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A measure that would have rewritten the nation's communications laws and laid the groundwork for guaranteeing educational access to the so-called "information highway" is dead, at least for this Congressional session.

In a surprise move, Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, declared late last month that there was not enough time before lawmakers adjourn this month to pass S 1822 over bitter opposition. He said the bill had fallen victim to intensive lobbying by the nation's Bell operating companies and other telephone concerns seeking regulatory concessions.

"We will not be held hostage at the last minute to ultimatums and to the desires of certain parties to rewrite a bill that passed the committee by an overwhelming and bipartisan vote," the South Carolina Democrat said in a statement.

Representatives from an array of groups, from industry lobbyists to consumer advocates, had attacked the bill since it was introduced in February. But most of their concerns had been addressed, aides noted, and the telephone companies had long argued for the competitive freedom the measure would have granted.

Public-Interest Access

However, opponents of the measure, led by the Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, R-Kan., had threatened to filibuster the bill or offer a host of amendments designed to weigh the bill down had it been considered on the Senate floor.

They argued that the bill would have imposed too many regulations on telephone companies that it did not apply to other segments of the telecommunications industry.

Along with a companion measure in the House, HR 3626, the bill would have substantially re-written the Communications Act of 1934, which remains largely unchanged since radio's heyday, to reflect the growing importance of digital communications.

Of particular interest to education policymakers were provisions that would have required the Federal Communications Commission to develop regulations to insure access by a variety of public institutions, including public schools, to advanced telecommunciations networks and to establish rate structures favorable to educational and other public-interest users.

Mr. Hollings is expected to reintroduce a similar measure when Congress reconvenes next year.

Vol. 14, Issue 05

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