House Communications, Technology and Internet Chairman Rep. Rick Boucher had a pledge and several requests for the cable industry, which he delivered wrapped in praise for National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow and for cable’s commitment to broadband, interactive services and a digital-TV education campaign.
The Virginia Democrat’s pledge, which came in a luncheon speech Thursday, was that he would fight efforts by the Copyright Office and others to phase out cable’s compulsory license, which would force operators to negotiate individually for programs when they retransmit broadcast signals. He said the industry would be facing a “practical impossibility” if it were asked to do that.
His request was for help in getting his shield law bill through the Senate. The bill passed the House on voice vote this week, but Boucher said earlier in the week he was not predicting what would happen in the Senate. Boucher also asked broadcasters at an National Association of Broadcasters conference this week to alert Congress of their support of the shield law, which provides partial protection for reporters and their sources from testifying in federal courts.
Boucher also asked for input on how to craft a bipartisan online privacy bill he is drafting that would provide opt in/opt out guidelines for online marketing.
Boucher praised cable for getting broadband to 92% of the country, but said it had to do more, including urging cable operators to apply for some of the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus grant/loan money.
“The simple message I have today is: Please be very aggressive in applying for funds.”
Boucher said cable had done an extraordinary job in promoting the DTV transition, saying it was “first out of the box” with a multimillion dollar education campaign. “And you did so ahead of the broadcast industry,” he said.
Boucher pointed out that cable had aired more than $250 million in PSAs about the digital-TV transition telling people what to do. “Largely that involved not cancelling their cable subscriptions,” he said, drawing knowing laughter from the crowd. He said cable’s PSA’s were the most entertaining as well.
On a related note, he encouraged more cable operators to offer low-cost basic TV service packages, like the ones some operators offered as an incentive to woo some customers during the DTV transition, saying that could benefit both the industry and the public.
Boucher said the cable industry had “enriched the American public with news, sports and entertainment programming.
He also praised McSlarrow as a friend who was easy to work with and who provided the industry with “thoughtful, solution-oriented leadership.”
Boucher had come to the convention from presiding over a broadband oversight hearing. He told reporters that during that hearing, he had made the point that whatever openness conditions are put on the broadband stimulus money, they should not be too tough. “Many of us, myself included, were making the point…that whatever conditions are imposed relating to nondiscrimination and open access should not be onerous to the extent that they discourage applicants from applying.”