Ensign Unveils Telecom Bill


Going to bat for the Baby Bells and other wireline cable rivals, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) Wednesday introduced sweeping telecommunications-deregulation legislation that would allow phone companies to offer video without a franchise and gain access to all cable-affiliated programming.

Cable’s official reaction to Ensign’s 72-page Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act was tepid, perhaps because it represented just the first step in a process that could take years to produce a consensus piece of legislation.

“We commend Sen. Ensign for crafting legislation that seeks to promote competition and innovation and treats like services alike. Consumers benefit when market forces are allowed to work and all providers, regardless of technology, can compete in the marketplace without government policies that pick winners and losers,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow said.

"While there are specific provisions we would want to work on with Sen. Ensign, this is an important and constructive step forward," he added.

In addition to not needing a franchise, the Bells could adhere to their own buildout schedule. Cities would be able to collect rights-of-way-usage fees from both cable and phone companies.

Ensign would expand program-access laws to include all cable networks affiliated with cable operators. Current law is limited to satellite-delivered networks.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would also require network neutrality so that consumers would have unimpeded access to all legal broadband content. Ensign would provide an exemption for “customized content” developed by broadband-network owners.