Pol talks on telecoms

Stevens singles out video franchising rules

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) stressed the need Wednesday for compromise among the many interests closely watching Congress address telecom reform, which will impact the bottom lines of numerous media companies.

At a breakfast gathering of National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. members, Stevens singled out video franchising rules, which, as part of the telecom rewrite under way, will be eased to help telephone companies into the video services market. NCTA has lobbied against what it has perceived to be proposals overly favoring telcos, and local governments have complained of losing authority over local cable requirements.

“We are therefore seeking a compromise,” Stevens said, referring to a draft of the telecom bill that is being revised.

More compromise is coming, particularly on the volatile and elusive issue of so-called ‘Net neutrality, essentially the idea that broadband providers should not be allowed to charge different rates to different users or Web sites for accessing or transmitting content.

But the issue continues to be vexing. For example, in the draft bill, Stevens’ only ‘Net neutrality provision involved the Federal Communications Commission monitoring Internet service for anti-competitive behavior.

“I thought it would be difficult to legislate or fix a problem before Congress really understands what it is,” Stevens said.

Congress is working toward that, he said, emphasizing that Congress — and not the FCC — will write any kind of ‘Net neutrality rules.

“We’re trying to find language that will make people on each side of the issue comfortable enough to vote for it,” he said. “It may not be what everybody wants.”

Stevens may also be compromising with himself. He alluded to build-out requirements for new video providers, a franchising issue that has divided cablers and telcos. Cablers have had to build networks into multiple localities in a given region, not just those that promise the greatest return.

Stevens’ draft bill does not impose build-out requirements for new video and Internet providers, but that may be changing: “Every American should be able to be connected,” he said. “No sector of the industry should be allowed to impede that.”

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