Senate Franchise Bill Markup Postponed


A markup of the Senate version of a video franchise/communications reform bill will be put off a few days, Senate Commerce Committe Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said Tuesday following the last of  what he pointed out had been 29 communications-related hearings. The date was later pegged at June 22.

The hearing had been scheduled for June 20, but the committee will take some more time to work on further changes to the bill.

"I think we're now ready to work on a final draft," Stevens said, following testimony from a panel of industry execs, academics, media activists and even the National Guard, all taking their last official shots at shaping a Senate commerce Committee bill streamlining the video franchise process as well as addressing numerous other issues from the broadcast flag and unlicensed wireless devices to the DTV transition and even reducing phone rates for soldiers stationed abroad.

Reactions to the committee's second draft of the bill, which began circulating in the wider world Monday, varied.
National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow called the latest take a mixed bag.
He labeled a step backward the addition of sports program-access language that he says applies restrictions on cable that do not apply to satellite, singling out DirecTV's exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket  access to football games.
The telco industry, represented by U.S. Telecom President Walter McCormick disagreed, saying telcos supported the program-access provisions. That's becuase some telcos have had to sue to try to get access to sports programming controlled by cable companies.

But both sides agreed that the bill's light touch on network neutrality, a holdover from the first draft, was still the right approach.
That approach could well change, however. Stevens has said before, and said again Tuesday, that he thought there was a way to make sure the FCC could deal with net neutrality issues as they impacted consumers while still giving the big behemoths on all three sides--cable, telcos and computer companies like Microsoft, marketplace room to battle out the larger issues among their lawyers.
In fact, several Senators seemed to be seeking some middle ground on the issue of protecting access to the Internet without discouraging the capitol investment in networks that will be crucial to the rollout of broadband.
There is enough authority at the FCC and in antitrust law to deal with 'net discrimination, argued Dr. John Rutledge, a consultant to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If the goverment overregulates, he argued, "there may not be a problem because there may not be investment in high-speed telecom."
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) was hardly convinced, saying anti-trust enforcement was almost "nonexistent."