Policy

House Franchise Bill on Hold

3/13/2006 11:32 AM Eastern

A House subcommittee is unlikely to vote this week on a bill that would award a national cable franchise to phone companies and impose so-called network-neutrality rules on cable and phone companies, according to industry and Capitol Hill sources.

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last Wednesday agreed in principle to the bill’s main provisions, ordering staff to draft the specific legislative language. A vote either Wednesday or Thursday by the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee was considered a possibility last week.

But Monday, a House aide involved in the drafting indicated that staff work had not been completed on the language. Even when that step is complete, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and other key members would need to review the provisions to determine whether they accurately reflect the various compromises that were struck, and the timing surrounding that process was uncertain.

A cable-industry source and another House aide also said Monday that it was unlikely that a subcommittee vote would occur this week.

Under the bill, phone companies would not have to negotiate with local governments to provide cable service, while incumbent companies would not escape local franchising obligations until the phone-company provider had secured 15% of the local market.

The bill also would ban cable and phone companies from blocking and degrading consumer-selected voice, video, data and software-application services available on the Internet that depend on unimpeded access to consumers with high-speed-Internet access.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow blasted the House proposal last Thursday, especially the franchising provision, as a “sweetheart” deal for AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., both of which are making a big push into cable.

McSlarrow’s outburst was unusual because the NCTA tends not to comment on legislation that hasn’t been introduced.

March