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AARP Letter to Chairman Barton Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 12:00:00

March 30, 2006

The Honorable Joe Barton
Chairman, Energy and Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Barton:

AARP appreciates the opportunity to comment on “The Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006.” While AARP commends the sponsors for promoting competition for broadband services by eliminating the ability of states to bar municipal provision of broadband services, we believe the bill is deficient in two significant areas for consumers: the delivery of video programming services and the preservation of the openness of the Internet.

While the bill promotes a national franchise authority to streamline the process and accelerate competition for video services, it falls short of ensuring important consumer protections the marketplace cannot guarantee. As a result, the bill generally fails to deliver the benefits of video services competition to all consumers. At a minimum, we believe the bill should retain the protections inherent within the current local franchise authority.

AARP is also concerned with the absence of any requirement for new video entrants to uniformly upgrade their networks; as a result, many consumers will not have a competitive alternative for video services for some time to come. The subsequent elimination of current local franchise requirements for incumbent cable operators, when a new entrant arrives in their franchise area, may result in cable price increases for some consumers and loss of service for other consumers in areas where cable providers can withdraw from markets entirely. Furthermore, the bill would prohibit state or local officials from adopting additional consumer protections to the national rules. AARP opposes national rules that serve as a ceiling, rather than a floor; state and local officials should be able to serve their communities by requiring standards that meet their consumers’ needs.

In short, AARP believes the bill’s attempt to promote competition in the delivery of video services misses the mark for consumers. In addition, the bill fails to maximize a distinct opportunity to accelerate deployment of broadband network facilities in the United States.

Finally, although the bill does take an initial step to address the issue of “network neutrality,” we believe the approach does not go far enough. A growing number of mid-life and older Americans are online and rely on unfettered access to content and services on the Internet. We believe that the Internet should remain an open and innovative platform, and urge the members of this Committee to incorporate a more meaningful and enforceable network neutrality requirement in this bill.

Thank you for your consideration of our views. We look forward to working with the members of the Committee on crafting this important consumer telecommunications legislation. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me, or have your staff call Debra Berlyn of our Federal Affairs staff at 434-3800.

Sincerely,
David P. Sloane
Sr. Managing Director
Government Relations and Advocacy