Senate Republicans have floated draft information superhighway legislation that would ease cable rate regulation, lift the restriction against foreigners owning U.S. TV stations and allow telephone companies into the cable TV arena within a year.

A blueprint of Senate Commerce Committee chairman Larry Pressler’s (R-S.D.) bill was circulated in D.C. Jan. 12, just as two lawmakers in the House of Representatives were also introducing legislation of their own to repeal rules against foreigners owning U.S. broadcast outlets (see story below).

The Pressler bill, which is expected to be revised before official introduction in coming weeks, comes after a similar, more regulatory infopike bill died late in the previous session of Congress.

The Pressler measure would provide sweet relief for cable operators, who have chafed under the FCC ordered 17% rollback in cable rates. Though details were sketchy, it’s expected the legislation will ease what’s known as the “effective competition” test of FCC rate regulation rules.

Under the effective competition standard, cablers are subject to rate regulation if at least 50% of homes in a system’s service area don’t have access to a second, competing distribution service and if at least 15% of homes in the service area don’t subscribe to the alternative service.

The Pressler bill will likely ease the 15% actual subscriber test to perhaps as low as 5%. The legislation will be targeted specifically towards easing rate regulation of the enhanced basic cable tier. Rate regulation would remain in effect on the broadcast basic tier, while other provisions of the 1992 Cable Act would remain intact.

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