Barton: Amendment Won’t Pass

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An amendment supported by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) that would overhaul retransmission consent is unlikely to pass the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said Wednesday.

“It won’t pass, and I will encourage him not to offer the amendment,” Barton said in a conference call with reporters to discuss his new telecommunications bill that would award national video franchises to phone companies.

Retransmission consent refers to the ability of local TV stations to demand compensation in exchange for cable carriage. Although many cable companies complain that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are abusing the process, the programming giants counter that they are playing fair and that the deals are market-driven.

The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet is expected to vote on Barton’s bill next Wednesday, followed by a full committee vote in late April or early May. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is working on a May or June date to debate the bill on the House floor.

Deal, an ally of small cable operators, is reportedly interested in forcing major cable programmers to sell their services to distributors on an a la carte basis. He is also considered favorable to the idea that cable companies should be allowed to import out-of-market TV signals during carriage disputes with their home market affiliates. And he is considering requiring the Federal Communications Commission to create a programming-cost index.

“I think he is looking at a lot of ideas,” a cable-industry source said.

If Deal tried to attach his amendment to Barton’s bill, he might be stopped by a procedural rule that retransmission consent is not germane to a telecommunications bill.

“I don’t know about a germaneness problem, but there is a vote-getting problem,” Barton said.

Asked whether he was expecting amendments on multicast must-carry or media ownership, Barton said, “We are not expecting any successful amendments.”

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