Telecom chair unveils b’caster-friendly agenda

Upton against spectrum tax, free pol airtime

WASHINGTON — The new Republican chair of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee proved on Monday he’s a friend to broadcasters, even if it means taking on George W. Bush.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) gave a rundown of how he stands on various issues when speaking at a National Assn. of Broadcasters conference here. Almost across the board, the lawmaker sided with broadcasters when laying out his agenda for the influential telecom panel.

On the controversial issue of a spectrum tax, Upton said he doesn’t agree with a Bush administration proposal that would essentially ask broadcasters to pay a squatter’s fee for sitting on analog spectrum while making the transition to digital.

Upton also said he would oppose any proposal giving free airtime to political candidates. With campaign finance reform about to take the front seat in Congress, it’s expected that such a proposal will come up for debate.

The only time Upton came close to scolding broadcasters was over violent content. Joining the chorus of politicos charging Hollywood with churning out gratuitous violence, Upton said the industry must take more responsibility in this area.

Later this week, Upton will hold a hearing on the troubled digital TV transition. Many of the scheduled witnesses also testified last month before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Meanwhile, no one attending Monday’s NAB confab wanted to comment publicly on a complaint lodged against the networks last week by more than 600 ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. Complaint, filed with the FCC, accuses the nets of strong-arming affils with regard to programming and crucial business decisions.

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