Small-cable TV operators are calling on Congress to restrict telephone company entry into the cable TV business for seven years or until the telcos face competition in the delivery of local phone service.

The plan was unveiled Thursday by the newly named Cable Telecommunications Assn.

CATA — formerly known as the Community Antenna Television Assn. — represents mostly independent and “mom and pop” cable operators.

The CATA position coincides with that staked out last month by the National Cable Television Assn. CATA prez Steve Effros said he hopes the unified industry stand will help cablers influence the “information superhighway” debate that is starting in D.C.

Given the widespread negative perception of the cable industry that surfaced during the 1992 Cable Act battle, it’s unclear how much clout the industry will have in shaping the info superhighway debate. Most legislative proposals making the D.C. rounds envision much quicker telco entry into cable than that proposed by NCTA and CATA.

Effros said Thursday that if Congress truly wants competition to flourish between cable and telcos, then cablers must be given the time to gain capital needed to fight the well-heeled telcos.

Thus, CATA called for a moratorium on telco entry unless a phone provider is shown to face “effective competition” in the delivery of local phone service. (CATA defines effective competition as the presence of an alternative phone provider in 50% of a local region, along with a 15% customer penetration rate.)

In order to speed up construction of the superhighway in small markets, CATA is urging the government to allow telcos to buy out or create joint ventures with existing phone companies. That plan might face resistance in Congress, where key lawmakers are insisting that two wires (one from the telco and one from the cabler) run into each home.

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