Passage expected for telcos-cablers bill

Congressional staffers on Wednesday predicted passage in 1994 of legislation allowing telephone companies to compete head-to-head with cable TV operators.

The forecast was made at the Western Cable Show, where aides to reps Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jack Fields (R-Texas) said the cable industry’s request for a seven-year delay in allowing telcos into cable does not appear likely.

Cable lobbyists are pushing for a seven-year “staged entry” of telcos into cable unless the phone companies are facing competition in the delivery of local phone service. However, Markey aide David Zesiger and Fields’ staffers, Cathy Reid and Mike Regan, were skeptical that Congress will sign off on such a lengthy delay.

Prospects for passing legislation are increased due to the bipartisanship that has developed on the issue, Zesiger said. He said that even when the Clinton administration unveils its “information superhighway” proposal, it’s expected to draw GOP support.

Regan said that if legislation introduced last week by Markey and Fields becomes law next year, telcos and cablers could begin invading each other’s turf within two and a half years.

That projection drew skepticism from Steve Effros, head of the Cable Telecommunications Assn., a D.C. lobbying organization. Effros said it would be “five years minimum” before telcos and cable companies are competing.

Effros also scoffed at the notion that telco-into-cable legislation will pass next year. “I have serious doubt that there is yet an appreciation of how complex this is,” he said.

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