Panel talks info access

Antitrust laws must be toughened to ensure that cable TV operators and telephone companies don’t thwart broadcasters and other program deliverers on the information superhighway, according to John Siegel, senior VP of San Francisco-based Chris-Craft Television.

Siegel spoke at the kickoff of the Assn. of Independent Television confab here Sunday, where he sat on a panel with lobbyists Doug Watts of Tele-Communications Inc., Tom Tauke of Nynex Corp. and Gerry Salemme of McCaw Cellular.

Siegel said the Justice Dept. should require divestiture of a cabler or telco’s assets if infopike discrimination occurs. He claimed it is “very possible the American people will be the loser” unless the government ensures universal access to the info highway.

Siegel also chided Tauke over the telephone industry’s decision not to back the new must-carry law requiring cablers to set aside a third of channel capacity for local broadcast stations.

Industry forced

Tauke conceded the telcos urged the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the must-carry rules, but he said the industry was forced into that position as it fights its First Amendment case to enter the cable biz. Telcos still believe in the concept of broadcaster must-carry protection, Tauke added.

Watts said broadcasters should not fear losing carriage even if the law is overturned by the Supreme Court. “If must-carry goes south, TCI will continue to carry all the popular local programming that it does now,” he said.

Salemme said one “potential bottleneck” on the superhighway will be the design of set-top converter boxes, and whether the software favors some programmers over others. Siegel agreed, and pledged that broadcasters will be “very active” in insisting on “non-discriminatory access” in the technology.

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