Solons in a flurry of biz before fall break

Judiciary Committee has mergers, piracy on plate

Before Capitol Hill empties in early October for the midterm elections, solons could make life hectic and unpredictable for Hollywood lobbyists on a number of key matters.

Politicos — who returned to Washington last week after the August break — are already planning a House Judiciary Committee hearing on digital piracy, and how far the entertainment biz should be allowed to go in restricting such mediums as the Internet.

Behind the scenes, Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti and other studio lobbyists will be walking the hallways of Congress, continuing their anti-piracy campaign.

There’s also the matter of two major mergers on the table: EchoStar/DirecTV and Comcast/AT&T.

Although they don’t have direct say over the marriages — that’s a job for the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission — lawmakers can put up roadblocks by holding last-minute hearings or as those reviewing the deals to seek concessions before giving their blessing.

Another fall issue is the fate of various ownership regs governing the TV biz. Later this week, the FCC will vote to begin a long-awaited overhaul of the rules.

Consensus is FCC topper Michael Powell will loosen the rules, including a cap barring broadcasters from reaching more than 30% of the national aud, once the public comment period concludes,.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chair of the influential Senate Commerce Committee, are sure to follow how the FCC is leaning. Hollings doesn’t want such rules relaxed, saying there’s already been too much consolidation, giving the megacongloms almost total control of the airwaves.

Hollings could call a hearing on the FCC vote, or at the very least, dispatch a letter to Powell outlining his concerns.

Either way, lobbyists for entertainment and media conglomerates must be ready on a moment’s notice to prep for a hearing and are working doggedly behind the scenes to soothe congressional concerns.

Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the House Commerce Committee, is concerned about the overhaul of ownership rules for different reasons, and he already has complained to Powell that the FCC’s review of some rules has taken too long.

In particular, Tauzin is peeved that the commission hasn’t taken a vote on whether to repeal a rule blocking a broadcaster from owning a TV station and a newspaper in the same major market, barring a waiver from the FCC.

The lawmaker is among a cadre of politicos who want the cross-ownership ban lifted, saying it will inject new life into the newspaper and local TV biz.

Powell says it makes more sense to review the various ownership regs at one time, as opposed to doing it piecemeal.

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