Infopike to curb tired regs

The information superhighway already has too many roadblocks, according to Vice President Al Gore, who said the Clinton administration will support gradual removal of outdated regulatory hurdles blocking the telephone and cable TV industries from engaging in head-to-head competition.

In an address at the National Press Club Tuesday, Gore presented a rough draft of the administration’s plans for the rapidly evolving future of communications. The vice president said the White House –“over time, under appropriate conditions”– envisions ending many of the legal barriers now preventing unfettered competition in telecommunications. The administration has endorsed no specific proposals, Gore said,but agrees with basic principles for encouraging competition. The White House plans to work with Congress to fashion legislation that “govern(s) this difficult transition to an open market for information,” he said.

Gore’s speech came amid reports that the White House has done an about-face and decided not to submit its own infopike legislative proposal. Instead, the administration will work to influence existing legislation offered in both the House and Senate.

The reversal reportedly came after key House Democrats, including Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), warned the White House not to offer legislation of its own because of the potential for derailing carefully crafted bills in Congress. Gore set forth five principles that will guide the Clinton administration as it offers legislative proposals in 1994:

An interest in encouraging private sector investment in the superhighways.

Provisions that promote and protect competition.

An insistence on open access to networks.

Provisions that ensure universal service to the poorest Americans.

An insistence that policies be sufficiently flexible to accommodate changing technology.

Gore plans to provide more details of the White House’s legislative package in a speech at the Superhighway Summit Jan. 11 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is hosting the event, which also will feature an address from Federal Communications Commission chairman Reed Hundt and panels with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg from Disney, ABC TV’s Robert Iger, Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic, John Malone of Tele-Communications Inc. and other superhighway honchos.

At the National Press Club, Gore said Congress and the administration have a “unique opportunity (to) perform the most major surgery on the Communications Act since it was enacted in 1934.”

A bipartisan group of influential House lawmakers, including Dingell, intend to push through bills aimed at dismantling telco/cabler restrictions in 1994.

“Between now and the beginning of next session,” Gore said, “we’ll be continuing our dialogue with Congress, industry and public interest groups to formulate our proposal for legislative and administrative action that will clear the way for the communications marketplace of the future.”

High coverage seen

The veep noted that nearly 95% of all U.S. homes have telephone service. He said that under the Clinton administration plan, a similar number of homes will have access to information highway networks that might allow impoverished children to use computer networks to tap into the Library of Congress. Information providers would simply be required to pay a “fair and equitable price” to deliver their programming.

The insistence on open access will prevent monopolies, he said. “Our legislation will contain strong safeguards against such behavior.”

Decker Anstrom, acting head of the National Cable Television Assn., said in a statement that Gore offered “solid, comprehensive principles which will help pave the way for a national information infrastructure. Cable TV systems … hope to be a major component of the infrastructure,” he said.

U.S. Telephone Assn. lobbyist Ward White said any legislation passed by Congress “must take into account the impact of competition on universal service.”

White also said USTA sent a letter to Hundt urging the FCC to allow rural telephone companies to offer cable TV service.

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