Congressional staff members got an earful Monday from cable operators angry over passage of the cable reregulation bill last year.

One small cabler after another expressed frustration at Congress and the FCC at a panel discussion at the National Cable Television Assn. convention here. The Federal Communications Commission, acting at the behest of Congress, has unveiled regulations designed to roll back cable rates by as much as 15%.

One cabler asked whether Washington is “aware that 5,000 operators will be bankrupt” if the FCC rate rules take effect as planned June 21.

“Nobody wants to see small operators go out of business,” said David Leach, an aide to House energy and commerce committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.). However, Leach’s words of sympathy did not appear to appease the hostile audience.

One operator complained that he “cannot possibility meet the FCC deadlines” and asked for a delay of the commission’s June 21 date.

Although some staffers indicated support for delaying the FCC regs, Gerry Waldron, an aide to House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), said a postponement would be “a disappointment” for consumers expecting lower cable bills.

Dingell aide Alan Roth said he senses very little sympathy in Congress for cable industry complaints about FCC rules.

Much of the discussion centered on legislation expected to be offered in the Senate this week allowing telephone companies to enter the cable business. Co-sponsoring the bill will be Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and John Danforth (R-Mo.).

Jill Luckett, an aide to Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) said she believes “nothing is set in stone” on the Inouye/Danforth bill and that the lawmakers will consider revising legislation.

Even if the telco-cable bill passes out of committee, it’s questionable whether the full Senate could act on the measure this year, according to Anita Jensen, an aide to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine).

Jensen noted that budget and health reform battles will consume much of the Senate calendar for the rest of the year.

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