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Markey plans push in telecom

Panel chief aims to boost competition, benefit consumers

US Representative Edward J. Markey will next week begin to review hot-button issues such as network neutrality and the proposed merger between satellite radio giants XM and Sirius, as he takes charge of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet after a 12-year hiatus.

The 16-term Democrat from Malden said yesterday that over the next two years he will focus on fostering competition that will benefit consumers, starting with a reexamination of the future of the Internet and radio.

On Thursday , Sir Timothy Berners-Lee , the inventor of the World Wide Web, will testify before the subcommittee on the future of the Internet. The subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the Federal Communications Commission's December vote to impose a time limit on local officials reviewing applications from telephone companies planning to enter the cable television market. Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. chief executive Mel Karmazin will appear before the subcommittee next week, in a hearing to review the proposed merger with XM Satellite Holdings Inc., and the future of radio.

"We're going to go back to the beginning, to begin to talk about the whole nature of these" issues, Markey said. "Now, for the first time I have the gavel back again, and I plan to highlight competition."

Markey was chairman of the subcommittee 12 years ago, and said that under a Republican-controlled Congress and FCC, consumers have suffered -- with the slow spread of broadband and a lack of competition to telephone and cable companies.

Mark Horan , executive director of the Massachusetts Network Communications Council, said that with Markey at the helm of the telecom subcommittee, local businesses will do well.

Software and communication services jobs and computer and communication hardware jobs together account for 173,000 positions in the state, according to the 2006 Index of the Massachusetts Economy, released by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

"First of all, there is some benefit to having a direct pipeline to policy being made in Washington, and the chairman of the committee tends to help in that regard," Horan said. Also, "competition has been good for small companies, entrepreneurs, and for consumers, and Massachusetts has a long history of people who are in the network engineering, communications software, and engineering fields."

Jeff Kagan , a telecom analyst, said it was too soon to tell whether the shift of power would help or hinder the industry.

"We don't know what position he's going to take yet," Kagan said. "If he's going to allow the industry to continue to evolve and break down the barriers between" cable and telephone companies, "that's good. In order for the customer to win, that's what has to happen."

In a wide-ranging conversation yesterday, Markey laid out a broad telecom agenda that could pit him against the telephone and cable companies -- expressing interest in "paranoia-inducing alternatives" like municipal broadband projects and wireless carriers that could pose a competitive threat to cable and telephone companies and push them to innovate.

He stressed that network neutrality -- an initiative to ensure that the Internet does not become a two-tiered system in which some companies pay fees for priority access --will likely dominate the discussion over the next two years.

Innovations such as the Web browser, search engines, and the Internet did not emerge from large established companies, and forcing firms to pay more to reach users would stifle creativity, he said.

It's a position that puts him at odds with major industry players.

"Our first position in the cable television industry is that we should let the marketplace work," said Paul R. Cianelli , the president of the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association Inc. "It's only in the absence of a viable market that government should regulate anything, and that includes the Internet."

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at