MPAA, telcos in infopike fray

In what’s shaping up as a potential collision on the information superhighway between Hollywood and the Baby Bells, the MPAA is calling for tougher rules ensuring that telephone company entry into video delivery be limited.

MPAA president Jack Valenti on Thursday sent a letter to House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) praising lingo in Markey’s infopike bill that allows telcos to enter the cable TV business as long as telco program ownership is limited to 25% of programming carried over phone lines.

Valenti also asked for Markeyto retain the 25% restriction on telco ownership of programming permanently; as Markey’s bill is written, the 25% telco restriction would be lifted after five years.

Valenti said it is “critically important to independent program suppliers” that the 25% telco program ownership restriction be retained “or an alternative provision be inserted that will guarantee access to the system. Such a provision is necessary to ensure that your bill secures fair competition in the delivery of video programming to the public.”

The MPAA missive is well-timed, since Markey’s subcommittee is expected to vote next week on legislation that would lift the longstanding ban against telcos entering the cable business. However, the letter won’t be greeted warmly by the telcos, who have been lobbying Markey’s subcommittee in recent weeks to lift the 25% ownership restriction.

The lobbying efforts by the telcos appear to be paying off. One congressional source said Republicans on Markey’s subcommittee intend to offer an amendment removing the 25% telco restriction. The GOP substitute plan, which reportedly has drawn support from some Democrats on the Markey panel, would let the FCC decide guidelines for telco delivery of video programming.

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