Media types rocked by the Senate's approval last March of a bill requiring them to give politicians deeply discounted ad time got some encouragement from the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.
Most panel members oppose the bill, which would require broadcasters, cable operators and satellite TV providers to give politicians their lowest ad rates, rather than the lowest-unit ad rate currently standard. That provision, sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), is part of the campaign-finance–reform package.
"In my mind, the Torricelli amendment not only would fail to reduce spending but would unfairly burden broadcasters, cable operators and satellite providers," said subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
Belo Executive Vice President Jack Sander said the net effect of the bill would be like "every candidate getting a first-class seat on an airplane for the cheapest-priced coach ticket from the previous year."
Andy Wright, general counsel for the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association, noted that satellite TV providers don't sell political ads. Rainbow Media President Joshua Sapan said cable operators' local advertising isn't expensive and operators don't use the free airwaves.
Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, defended Torricelli's bill: "The main thrust of the bipartisan campaign-finance bills is to reduce the supply of political money. This amendment would work hand-in-glove by reducing demand."
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) plans a similar amendment when Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) introduce their bill next month.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is concerned that broadcasters don't plan to convert fully to digital or give back their analog spectrum.
Sander said his company is on track to do so, but Markey replied, "You're a good player in a bad industry," and pushed the broadcaster to commit to giving politicians lowest-unit rates on digital channels.
"We need something from the industry, Mr. Sander," Markey said. "We have given you tens of billions of dollars."
Markey said he plans to push for a hard date on when broadcasters have to return the analog spectrum. Current law requires them to give it back in 2006 if 85% of TV homes have access to digital TV signals.