Handicapping Senate Telecom Bill


There is no timeline for the Senate's markup of an omnibus telecommunications reform bill, though it can be expected to be considered in the next two or three weeks. The House Commerce Committee is marking up its narrower version dealing with a national video franchise this week.

Senate staffers were busy working on draft language of its version over the Easter break, according to a committee source.

Considered locks for consideration in the bill are video franchising reform--the key provision of the House version; network neutrality language related to that reform, though likely not as strong as some bill critics would like; municipal broadband (also in the House version); universal service; and allowing unlicensed wireless devices in so-called "white spaces" in the broadcast band.

"Possibles" are a broadcast flag digital content-protection scheme, protection of kids from Internet content, and DTV-related items that had to be stripped from DTV hard date legislation that passed earlier in the year, like cable's downconversion of a DTV signal and the outlines of a consumer education campaign on the Feb. 17, 2009 switch to a digital TV transmission standard.

Multicasting must-carry is a long shot. The larger the bill, the harder it will be to reconcile with the House version and pass in this session. Even broadcasters are not sanguine about getting multicast, must-carry this time around.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton has promised a bill will pass this session, challenging reporters to bet against him.