WASHINGTON – Rep. John Dingell's bill to give the regional Bell telephone companies a boost in the high-speed Internet market is bringing him election-year criticism in his home state of Michigan.
Long-distance companies and Michigan telecommunication businesses are campaigning against the measure, which would allow the Bells to sell high-speed Internet access without letting competitors use their phone networks.
When the Michigan Alliance for Competitive Telecommunications held a news conference this week in Ann Arbor, Mich., the featured speaker was Rep. Lynn Rivers, who could face Dingell in a Democratic primary.
"This bill is good for four big monopoly telecommunications mega-conglomerates, and bad for everyone else," she said.
Dingell said his bill -- cosponsored by House Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La. -- will remove unnecessary regulations that keep local telephone companies from investing in broadband Internet technology.
Supporters, including the Bells, say the bill will bring high-speed data transmission to more rural and inner-city areas and create jobs.
"Tauzin-Dingell is about consumer choice, competition and job creation," said Dingell spokeswoman Laura Sheehan. "I don't think anyone in the new district will be against that except Lynn Rivers."
But opponents say it will require Internet providers to buy links from the Bells to connect customers to competing high-speed networks.
"If we can't connect to potential customers, residential and business customers won't be able to shop around for better service at lower prices," said Bill Lockwood, city director of KMC Telecom, a provider based in Ann Arbor.
Rivers and Dingell have been placed in the same congressional district by Michigan's Republican-controlled Legislature, which redrew election maps based on the 2000 census.
Both say they hope the courts will change the district maps so they can avoid a primary. Until then, however, they are campaigning against each other in the new district that lies south and west of Detroit.
Dingell, the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee and the longest-serving member of the House, has received more than $67,000 from communications and technology interests, compared to $2,000 for Rivers.