WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators want to help ease the World Wide Wait on the Internet.
At a hearing Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission explored the possibility of incentives to entice companies to provide more high-speed connections into homes. That would help ease Internet congestion.
While admitting he has no plan yet, FCC Chairman Bill Kennard made clear he favors lifting as many regulations as possible on companies to bring it about.
"There are a wide variety of firms using various technologies all wanting to provide high-speed networks and services. I believe it is important that all of these firms ... be able to compete without being constrained by burdensome regulation," Kennard said.
"One of the great challenges that we have at the commission is creating ... a deregulatory environment where all these various technologies can compete in the marketplace," he said.
Local, long-distance, satellite, cable and wireless companies all are in a race to build high-speed connections to homes. Some companies want to deliver not only Internet and other data services over those high-speed lines but also telephone and television. That's the vision behind the proposed merger of telephone titan AT&T Corp. and cable giant Tele-Communications Inc.
Regional Bell telephone companies Bell Atlantic, US West and Ameritech say existing regulations discourage them from building high-speed networks inside their local phone regions.
They want the FCC to use its powers under a 1996 telecommunications law to remove regulatory barriers hindering development of advanced telecommunications networks.
The Bells' rivals, including Sprint, wireless local phone provider WinStar Communications Inc. and global satellite company Teledesic argued against emasculating the regulations.
In a June 24 speech, Kennard advocated freeing the Bells and other local phone companies from having to sell their high-speed services to rivals at a discount. In return, local companies would have to lease crucial pieces of their networks so other companies could provide competing high-speed data services.
Kennard also suggested freeing local companies from having to file tariffs with the FCC.
As Internet usage soars, so does congestion on the telecommunications networks that people use to tap into the Internet and for data communications. A voice phone call lasts on average three or four minutes. People average of 28 minutes online.
Faster connections could be achieved in several ways, including the use of "ADSL" technology with the potential to provide lightning-quick connections over regular phone lines.