Video Franchise Bill Could Rate With Consumers

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House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) says the goal of the new national video franchise bill is not to pick winners and losers but to "blow away the barriers" between competitors offering high-speed Internet access, video and voice, taking a piece out of the monthly cable/telco/satellite bill in the process.

The result of speeding the entry of telcos into the mix, he predicts, is that the price of service will go down dramatically. His guess: as much as a $20-$25 per month savings.

In an interview for C-SPAN's series, The Communicators, Upton was discussing a bill that would grant a 10-year, automatically-renewing national video franchise to new video entrants like telcos and incumbent cable operators, at least after their existing franchises have expired or competition had moved into their market.

Upton cautioned that the bill has not yet been approved by his subcommittee, or the full committee or Congress, so things "well could change," including what triggers cable's national franchise.

Upton said he did not think there would be a land rush of telco/cable mergers once the barriers had been blown away.

Upton said he thought the satellite industry would remain a healthy entity in the new broadband world, saying they had improved their services "dramatically" over the past 10 or 15 years, citing local-into-local TV station carriage, more channels and smaller dishes, and particularly in rural areas where it may never be cost-efficient to run a wire.

At a House hearing on the video franchising bill Thursday, none of eight witnesses gave the same definition of network neutrality, the Internet access hot-button issue in the bill.

What is Upton's definition? "Net neutrality is the concept where when you get on your computer and you want to go to, say Google, you know that whomever provides that service is going to offer you access to the sites that you want to pug in to without a lot of interference at the same speed," though he did not add the "speed" part until prompted by the interviewer.

Upton said he did not think there is currently a problem with "network neutrality," and says that if there is, the FCC is the right "cop on the beat to make sure that all of us continue to have access to the sites we want." But he also said that if there turns out to be a problem, "then, in fact, we'll have to look at a rulemaking." The FCC is instructed to report to Congress on the issue and could wind up issuing a rulemaking on it, he said.

Why doesn't he think the bill has gotten the boilerplate protections on net neutrality right? The Microsofts and Googles of the world think it is not strong enough, and the Bells and cable think it is too strong, "so, that probably tells you we might have crafted it right where we want to be."

Upton again added that it is subject to amendment, but says he bets the language will survive the process.

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