Barton: Bill Minus Cable Provisions

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House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) is ready to advance a telecommunications bill stripped of provisions that have raised strong objections from the cable industry, industry and House sources said Thursday

The bill -- which would feature national video franchises for phone companies -- might be released in draft form Friday, followed by a hearing next week in the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Barton’s new schedule would call for a subcommittee vote in two weeks.

“It’s going to be a very narrow approach,” a House GOP aide said Thursday.

Cable still has hard lobbying work ahead. Barton’s bill is not expected to include buildout requirements -- an omission that would allow phone companies to target affluent cable communities. The bill is also expected to allow the Federal Communications Commission to enforce network-neutrality principles it adopted last August.

Barton -- feeling press pressure from cable and conservative think tanks -- dropped two provisions he had accepted in principle two weeks ago in negotiations with the committee’s top Democrats, Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

One provision would deny a national franchise for a cable incumbent until a phone provider had 15% of the local market, and another would bar cable operators from slashing rates only in those sections of a community where the phone company had initiated service.

Industry and House aides said Barton’s decision to drop those two provisions while refusing to include buildout requirements has cost him the support of Dingell and Markey, setting up a partisan contest when the committee meets to vote.

A House GOP aide was optimistic that House Democrats would feel enough political pressure to cause them to support the Barton bill on the House floor, if not in committee.

“We’ll have some Democrats vote against it in committee, but I don’t know how they’re going to vote against it on the floor. How are you going to vote against bringing your consumers lower prices?” the House GOP aide said.

Local officials are upset that the Barton bill would eliminate local cable franchising, a policy Congress established in 1984.

“Certainly, for local government, the bill is a disaster,” Jeff Arnold, a lobbyist for the National Association of Counties, said Thursday.

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