[opendtv] News: House Leaders Push TelcoTV Bill Sans Retrans Reform

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2006 07:38:03 -0400


Date posted: 2006-03-31

House Leaders Push TelcoTV Bill Sans Retrans Reform

Joe Barton, chairman of the House Commerce=20
Committee, laid odds of 2-to-1 that the president=20
will sign a telecom reform bill this year. He=20
didn't say which telecom bill, but he did say=20
that an amendment to reform retransmission=20
consent wouldn't be a part of it.

"There's a vote-getting problem," Barton said.=20
"It won't pass in full committee. I think that=20
amendment would have real tough sledding."

Retrans consent has come under renewed attack=20
recently in Washington, with Rep. Nathan Deal=20
(R-Ga.) emerging as a point man for reform. Deal=20
reportedly planned to tack an amendment onto the=20
telecom bill prohibiting broadcasters from=20
negotiating carriage for their cable networks=20
under retrans consent. Organizations representing=20
broadcasters in 37 states responded with decided=20
opposition in a letter to the committee.

"We urge you to reject Congressman Deal's=20
proposal, which would gut Congress' intent in the=20
Cable Act, turning back the clock to the bad old=20
days when cable operators simply took=20
broadcasters' signals and profited from them=20
without ever compensating broadcasters," it said.

The drive to unbundle carriage for=20
broadcast-owned cable nets from retrans may=20
dwindle as more broadcasters go after cash deals.=20
CBS, now divorced from Viacom, no longer has to=20
push the latest version of MTV in retrans=20
negations. The network just cut a=20
cash-for-content deal with Verizon on the telco's=20
budding FiOS network.

The most recent draft telecom bill would allow=20
Verizon and the rest of the Bells to obtain=20
sweeping national franchise agreements rather=20
than having to deal individually with some 40,000=20
municipalities. It would also give incumbent=20
cable operators the same deal instead of making=20
them wait until telcos penetrate 15 percent of a=20
given market. The 15-percent proposal was=20
floating around the House before the draft bill=20
hit daylight, and cable lobby chief Kyle=20
McSlarrow went after it tooth and nail. He also=20
successfully averted a proposal that would have=20
left cable at a pricing disadvantage to telcos.

McSlarrow said the released draft "represented=20
considerable progress," but that he'd also like=20
to see telephony included in the bill, and 'Net=20
neutrality bumped out of it.

We continue to believe that the better course is=20
for the government to resist injecting itself=20
into a thriving, dynamic market where investment=20
and innovation are flourishing," McSlarrow said=20
in a statement.

The 'Net neutrality clause in the bill purports=20
to give the FCC the power to enforce its own=20
definition of the concept, but it also implicitly=20
prohibits the commission from doing a rulemaking.

"Once they define what 'Net neutrality is... and=20
they haven't done that yet, we give them the=20
authority to adjudicate on a case-by-case basis=20
on whatever Net neutrality is. Before we get too=20
far down the road, I want to let the market sort=20
itself out. I know there are congressmen who=20
don't know what the term is," Barton said.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) criticized the draft for=20
limiting FCC authority on 'Net neutrality, and=20
for not preventing telcos from building out in=20
only the wealthiest neighborhoods. The draft does=20
has a provision that prohibits denial of access=20
to service based on income, but Markey and others=20
were not convinced of its efficacy.

"By failing to include a build-out provision to=20
ensure service area parity between a Bell company=20
entering a franchise area and the incumbent cable=20
operator, it allows a national franchisee to use=20
public rights-of-way in a community but serve=20
only select neighborhoods within the community,"=20
Markey said.

Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, president of the=20
Hispanic Federation, said "any franchising reform=20
legislation must contain provisions that=20
guarantee us a reasonable and equitable=20
deployment in Hispanic communities."=20
Rodriguez-Lopez was one of several witnesses who=20
testified before the House Internet subcommittee=20
during a hearing on the draft bill.

Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) expressed likewise=20
concern over potential redlining, as did a=20
representative who testified on behalf of several=20
consumer groups.

"Rather than provide for meaningful protections=20
to ensure that large cable and telecommunications=20
companies don't use their network ownership to=20
impede competition, the bill strips the Federal=20
Communications Commission of its authority to=20
establish meaningful rules to protect consumers=20
from these discriminatory practices," said=20
Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst for=20
Consumers Union, who testified on behalf of=20
Consumer Federation of America and Free Press.


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Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or=20
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