Cable Pans New House Telecom Blueprint

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The cable industry has "serious concerns" with House draft legislation designed to overhaul bedrock telecommunications law and to ease phone-company entry into cable markets.

In prepared House testimony, Insight Communications Co. Inc. CEO Michael Willner said his industry is troubled because the draft "creates different regulatory regimes for like services based on technological distinctions."

The House draft -- released late last week as a revision to a September draft -- would allow providers of "broadband-video service" to enter local markets without local approval, eliminating the franchise requirement across the country.

Willner complained that evidently, because cable would still be burdened with franchising until MSOs became "broadband-video-service" providers, the House draft would "be in the business of picking winners and losers."

Willner also alleged that the draft legislation "appears to impose forced-access obligations on facilities-based Internet-access providers." He added that such a step would negate cable’s victory in the Brand X case handed down by the Supreme Court in June.

The draft is splitting senior Republicans and Democrats on the panel. Democrats said Republicans did not consult them before releasing the new draft.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), referring to a range of substantive provisions of the new draft, called the draft a "significant step backward" from the earlier version.

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said the bill would not be marked up by the full committee this year, adding that he hoped to achieve bipartisan support when the time to vote arrived.

The new draft, he added, was prepared because the first version was heavily criticized.

"It was uniformly knocked," Barton said. "Nobody was for it that I am aware of. So we made some changes."

SBC Communications Inc. senior executive vice president and general counsel James Ellis praised the new draft, saying that it would allow the company to spend $5 billion over the next three years to compete with cable incumbents.

"What's important in the future is less, not more, regulation," he added.

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