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Committed to the First Amendment 1/20/2002 07:00:00 PM Eastern

High Court's pole call

What do you call a cable system that also provides high-speed Internet access. We still don't know, but one thing you don't get to call it is ripped off.

The Supreme Court last week reversed a lower-court ruling and held that the cap on the rates that utility companies can charge cable companies for stringing their wires can't be thrown out the window when ancillary services are thrown into the mix. But the court rightly rejected the telcos' invitation to force cable companies to carry unaffiliated ISPs.

Several utility companies had tried to jack up attachment fees as much as sevenfold. Had the judicial branch allowed that to continue, the cable industry would have taken a big hit: Industry estimates put the damage at $7 billion. That's undoubtedly a worst-case scenario, but, given one utility's attempt to raise the average fee from $7 to $50, the number would certainly have been big. Whatever the hit, it would have been passed along to customers in higher rates, which would probably have impelled Congress to respond to constituent complaints, discouraging cable's rollout of Internet access services. Good call.

Do-it-yourself diversity

The NAB board voted last week to draft its own proposal for new EEO rules to pass along to the FCC for its consideration. It was a smart political move but also a good idea. The FCC has already tried and failed several times to write rules that pass judicial muster, because it keeps looking for ways to preserve de facto quotas. Such rules have been held unconstitutional and will remain so no matter how often they are dressed in camouflage. On the other hand, broadcasters are perfectly capable of collectively coming up with more ways to achieve diversity in their job pool and work force. Broadcasters have never been accused of not looking after their own best interest, and, as we have said often and most broadcasters recognize, it is in that interest to draw from the widest talent pool possible.

Reality check

Although the NATPE convention will be a scaled-back, markedly different affair this year, we're not sure that's all bad. At the risk of biting the hand that has fed us giant shrimp on more than occasion, something slightly out of control haunts the booth-and-party one-upmanship on the convention circuit: I'll see your wood paneling and screening rooms and raise you a full bar and back massage.

We're not saying hard-working people shouldn't play hard or entertain well, only that its excess was, well, excessive, even before our priorities got a sobering wake-up call.

 

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