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Could It All Come Tumbling Down?

Just before the Christmas recess, after 10 years of discussions, four years of legislative wrangling, and one last month of heated horse trading, House and Senate conferees finally reached a compromise agreement on the Telecommunications Reform Bill.

The massive overhaul of the nation's 60-year-old communications law is designed to bring the oversight and regulation of the country's phones, televisions, and radios into the digital age. By doing away with many regulatory barriers, it's expected to unleash a wave of competition that will give Americans a vast array of choices that could make the confusion after the breakup of AT&T look like a walk in the park. But out of the chaos, advocates claim, Americans will eventually pay lower prices and have a whole new communications and entertainment world at their fingertips.

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The compromise left just about everyone a little grumpy, since no one got exactly what he wanted. But most industry lobbyists and consumer advocates were satisfied enough to sign on.

Then, what to many seemed like shot out of the blue, Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas announced his concerns about the broadcast spectrum.

Few in Washington want to speculate on the outcome of Senator Dole's demand. But many worry it could unravel the compromise and, at the very least, delay the reform bill yet another year.

"If we only knew what [Dole] really wanted, we'd feel much better," said one phone-company lobbyist.

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