Telecom Bill Gets Cable-Friendlier


The latest version of a House Commerce Committee bill establishing a national video franchise has some cable folks smiling.

The base bill introduced by Chairman Joe Barton Wednesday requires new entrants competing with an existing cable franchise to ultimately serve all the franchise area rather than just certain parts of it.

Cable had been pushing for that change so that the telcos would not be able to cherry-pick more-lucrative areas and avoid ones that cable has been required to serve.

There is no timetable for provision of that service, however.

The bill got even cable-friendlier with the adoption of an amendment from Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), that allows cable operators to immediately seek their own national franchise if they already have competition from a cable overbuilder.

The cable industry had already scored a victory when provisions were struck from an original draft of the bill that would not have allowed incumbent cable operators to seek a similar national franchise until the new entrant had penetrated 15% of households in a market, and one that would have instituted price controls by requiring incumbents to apply price cuts to their entire system, not just in the areas where incumbents might offer lower prices.

The bill is expected to pass out of committee Wednesday, but whether it can pass on the floor, be reconciled with a decidedly different Senate version, and signed into law before legislators head home to get re-elected is not clear.

Still to come in the mark-up of the bill--the committee meeting where it is ammended and voted on--is a partisan battle over the issue of nondiscrimination in the provision of Internet service, the so-called "network neutrality" issue that has been the subject of a lobbying blitz in the past week.

At press time, the legislators had left for a series of floor votes. When they returned, there were a handful of amendments on the video franchising portion of the bill before the committee turned to Internet access issues.

Barton said he hoped to have the mark-up done by 5:30 if everything went on schedule, a problematic scenario at best.