Telco-into-cable bill passes subcommittee

Information superhighway legislation that allows telephone companies to compete with cable TV operators cleared its first hurdle Tuesday, but the House Telecommunications Subcommittee postponed a vote on whether broadcasters should be permitted “flexible spectrum use.”

The unanimous vote from Rep. Ed Markey’s subcommittee contains good news for Hollywood, even though the Markey panel eliminated an MPAA-backed provision that would have required telcos entering video delivery to set aside 75% of programming capacity for non-telco distributors.

Under an amendment, lawmakers ditched the 75% provision and replaced it with lingo requiring telcos to “establish channel capacity for all bona fide requests.” That language will likely satisfy film studio lobbyists, in part because the bill requires telcos to meet the program delivery requests of competitors in perpetuity.

Tuesday’s vote by the Markey panel represents Congress’s first vote on infopike legislation that if passed would represent the most sweeping reform of communications law in 60 years.

Though the subcommittee agreed to put off voting on the most controversial aspects of the legislation until it reaches Rep. John Dingell’s House Energy and Commerce Committee, tempers flared over whether broadcasters should be granted the opportunity to provide non-traditional services.

Broadcasters have complained for months that they’ve been left on the sidelines during the infopike debate. In the last few weeks, broadcast lobbyists have pushed for an amendment that would permit use of spectrum for data transmission and other new business possibilities.

Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.) offered the amendment Tuesday, but Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Mike Synar (D-Okla.) voiced strenuous objections.

Markey’s panel also voted unanimously for a bill offered by Dingell and Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas) that would lift longstanding restrictions against entry by the Baby Bells into the long distance telephone market.

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