Hutchison: Avoid Big Battles

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Complete Cable Show 2009 coverage from Multichannel News

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) last week said she would resist efforts to mandate a la carte and network neutrality, but warned that unless the industry wanted Congress to get involved in retransmission-consent negotiations, it needs to try and avoid high-profile disputes.

That advice echoed a message from Capitol Hill staffers to broadcasters a day earlier at a National Association of Broadcasters legislative conference, where stations were warned that pulling their signals would not endear them to legislators.

Hutchison, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, told an audience at The Cable Show ’09 here last week that while mandating a la carte “sounds good,” she doesn’t think it would be.

But Hutchison did say she thought the price of basic-cable service was becoming “more and more of a problem for many people who would like to have certain programs,” so she did ask for a volunteer to offer packages of service targeted to sports fans or news junkies or history buffs, for example.

On network neutrality, she warned that if a bill did pass, it would “have a lot on it and you won’t like it.” She said stopping it cold was the best strategy because such a bill would “repress investment.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on , told reporters following his address to a similar audience that network neutrality was on his subcommittee’s to-do list. He did not say that would come in the form of a bill, but added quickly that he has supported such legislation in the past. (See Rules, page 19).

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who is Kerry’s opposite number atop the House Communications subcommittee, told Multichannel News that there was no “legislative emergency” that required making a network-neutrality law a priority.

Like many Republicans, Hutchinson is not a fan of the big stimulus package recently passed in Washington. Her opinion holds that the bill was poorly crafted, too large and mostly not stimulative. She said an exception was the $7.2 billion for broadband, which she said would create jobs.

She said that she thought the money should be targeted to unserved areas rather than trying to pick “winners and losers” in areas that are served and trying to decide when an area that’s wired is unserved.

Hutchison echoed her call for volunteers on the retransmission-consent issue, saying that the “ferocity” of some of the disputes was not to the cable industry’s advantage and certainly not to a senator’s. “No member of Congress wants to hear about the football game that is not going to be on their cable channel,” she said, adding, “If you want to avoid Washington interfering, I would stress that you should engage in good-faith negotiations, well in advance of expiring deals, and try to work it out.”