Democrats Nix B’cast Dereg Plan

Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee are rejecting a call from chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) for elimination of both cable TV price controls and broadcast ownership rules as part of sweeping information highway legislation.

In their much-anticipated response to Pressler’s draft proposal, Democrats on the Pressler panel proposed allowing telephone companies into the cable business immediately upon passage of legislation, and cablers into telco within a year.

But Democrats – led by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), the ranking Dem on the Pressler panel – dismissed Pressler’s plans for lifting rules that prevent broadcasters from owning more than 12 stations that reach more than 25% of U.S. households. “We can’t let them come in and buy it all up,” said Hollings, who said the Democrats’ bill allows the FCC to decide when broadcast ownership rule de regulation is warranted.

The Democratic draft also dismisses Pressler’s proposal to lift all FCC regulation of cable TV rates. “Under present conditions, we don’t think that should be permitted,” said Hollings, who complained that the FCC “gave back” to cable companies much of the savings that Congress ordered when it passed the 1992 Cable Act.

Democrats also will oppose Pressler’s call for a lifting of regs that prevent foreigners from owning more than 25% of U.S. broadcast properties. Hollings called the Pressler plan “a real danger” and said the matter should be best left to the FCC to decide.

Both the cable industry and the Baby Bell phone companies expressed opposition to the Democratic draft. National Cable Television Assn. staffer Rich D’Amato said the proposal “won’t yield a competitive telecommunications environment” and “clearly disadvantages cable.”

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