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Dingell Praises Tweaked Telecom Bill - Broadcasting & Cable

Dingell Praises Tweaked Telecom Bill

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In a positive sign for the full committee mark-up of a national video franchising bill in the House Commerce Committee, ranking Democrat John Dingell (D-Mich.) praised changes to the bill as introduced by Chairman Barton, and said he would support the manager's amendment--the basic framework of the bill--though it was not "perfect."

It remained to be seen whether he would ultimately vote for the final bill after varoius amendments had been introduced and voted on.

Dingell, along with Ed Markey (D-Mass.) were the strongest opponents of the bill in the subcommittee. Markey remained strongly opposed, calling the bill a "historic failure."

Barton said he had incorporated several changes to the bill since it passed overwhelmingly out of the telecommunications subcommittee, including clarifying the definition of a cable franchise, as well as clarifying that companies are still free to negotiate a local franchise and that current statewide franchise holders also have access to the nationwide franchise process.

The bill had originally used "cable operator" as the generic term for national franchisees. The new bill substitutes "person or group franchised under this section," which more accurately reflects the fact that those franchees may include telcos, broadband over powerline companies, and other, as-yet-undreamed, multichannel video providers.

Dingell said those changes had "cleared away some of the brush," though he said there were still discussions that needed to be held on the definition of cable service.

One of the imperfections that Dingell saw remaining in the bill was the lack of strong anti-red lining language, which would prevent new franchises from cherrypicking wealthier areas and bypassing lower-income areas that would return less on their investment. That was Markey's key criticism.

At press time, the legislators were still debating an amendment adopting "modest and incremental" build-out requirements--co-authored by Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) and Markey--with Barton arguing that the bill's allowance for municipal competitors for franchises and other marketplace forces were sufficient to spur build-outs.

California Democrat Henry Waxman backed the amendment, concerned about the lack of a service-area requirement for the first five years, then a graduated build-out after that. It is a leap of faith to believe the telcos will eventually serve all customers, he said.

Without the amendment, Waxman said, we won't get these areas covered, he argued. The current bill does contain some language preventing discrimination by income, but the language "doesn't have enough teeth," said Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Dingell was also concerned that what he said was a "somnolent" FCC would be charged with monitoring anti-redlining, and thus dealing with civil rights questions. They will do so in secret, he said, calling it a "calamitous" approach.
Still Dingell called the lack of the redlining language a problem with an otherwise good bill that would be "perfected" by the adoption of the amendment.

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