The post title more or less says it all, though I should add that as it now reads, HB789 passed the Senate unanimously. Save Muni Wireless has the details from the debate. Here's a summary of the bill:
The Senate version
* freezes basic local service prices til 2007
* conduct an PUC interim study of the universal service fund
* assumes a competitive market in large cities, and deregulates on 1/1/06
* provides a market test for suburban areas -- if there 3 competitors to the incumbent, then there is a competitive market, and the market is deregulated in unless the PUC disagrees
* in rural areas (under 30,000 lines), the PUC has discretion to determine if a market is competitive
* reduces intrastate line access charges to parity to interstate calls, reducing the cost of intrastate long distance
* has protection against discriminatory or predatory pricing, even if the market in the area is deregulated
The House passed a similar telecom deregulation bill in March, but that measure wouldn't implement market tests for small and suburban markets. It also would ban cities, in most cases, from offering wireless Internet access unless it's done for free.
Lawmakers must hash out the differences between the two proposals in a conference committee before the changes can be signed into law.
[C]onsumer groups argue both versions of the bill would give big phone companies the ability to raise rates without assurance that they really face competition all over the state. Although some consumers have access to mobile phones and Internet-based calling, such services aren't available everywhere.
"We just don't have the detailed information at this point about whether competition does or doesn't exist in Texas," said Tim Morstad, a Consumers Union policy analyst.
A separate — and more controversial — telecom measure that would give the state, not cities, oversight of pay-television franchising also is headed for a conference committee.
That provision, lobbied for by SBC, passed a vote in the Texas House on Sunday as part of a bill that would continue the existence of the PUC.
However, at least one key senator — Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville — has expressed concerns with the franchising changes being tacked onto the PUC bill and likely will work to strike the language.
UPDATE: Chip comments:
The cited reading of HB 789 is not quite accurate. The House version provides an immediate ban on charging for wireless services, and an eventual ban on all muni wireless services (paid and free).
This means if the House version passes, the free wireless access in a library built this year is safe. If, however, when a future library is built, if they haven't submitted a plan to the state PUC before the ban goes into effect, then no Internets for you!
We (Save Muni Wireless) are very concerned that this version may be the one that comes out of conference. We'll be taking further action as soon as the conference committee members are assigned. Thanks for the support.