Clinton Aide Raises Concerns

Publish date:
Updated on

Washington -- The Clinton administration is stepping up its
oversight of the cable industry in response to sharply higher cable rates and concerns
that the industry's ownership is too concentrated.

Despite these concerns, assistant commerce secretary Larry
Irving said the White House has no plans to support a cable-rate-freeze proposal pending
at the Federal Communications Commission.

'We don't have a plan,' Irving said at a
Jan. 7 Commerce Department press conference. 'Price controls should be the last
answer, not the first answer.'

Irving, who is the administrator of the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration, said he was troubled by reports that
cable systems and cable networks are controlled by just a few companies. He said he has
ordered staff to review the facts.

'You're beginning to see some interesting
vertical and horizontal integration,' Irving said. 'I am not quite sure what the
effect of that integration is. But we're certainly looking at it, as are some of our
sister agencies.'

Irving said no one has explained to him convincingly why
regulated cable rates keep rising.

'I hear programming costs, I hear sports costs, but
nobody can give me an absolute reason,' Irving said.

Irving, who in 1995 said that fears about cable clustering
were overstated, told reporters that he has a different opinion today because clustered
cable operators haven't plunged into local telephone markets, as policymakers had
been expecting.

'We hope that it will still happen,' Irving said.

Irving also indicated that he had doubts about whether
PrimeStar Partners L.P., the direct-broadcast satellite carrier controlled by major cable
operators, should be allowed to take possession of MCI Communications Corp.'s DBS

Irving said it didn't make sense to allow the cable
industry to have an ownership stake in a business that is viewed as cable's most
serious competitive threat.