Washington -- Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said he plans to
renew his quest early next year to pass a bill that would allow direct-broadcast satellite
carriers to offer local-TV signals in their home markets.
Tauzin, like Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain
(R-Ariz.), maintained that DBS won't develop as a price-restraining competitor to
cable unless it offers local-TV signals in a package with traditional cable networks.
More so than McCain, Tauzin supports reregulation of cable
if legislation authorizing DBS provision of local-TV signals fails to become law.
Tauzin, chairman of the House Telecommunications
Subcommittee, said he spoke on the phone with National Cable Television Association
president Decker Anstrom two weeks ago to seek cable's support for his local-DBS
"He indicated that they were prepared to support the
kind of must-carry that we have in our bill," Tauzin said.
Anstrom, who confirmed that the conversation occurred, said
he told Tauzin that the cable industry would modify its position on DBS must-carry,
provided that certain conditions were met.
"We would prefer full, immediate must-carry,"
But Anstrom added that a phase-in of DBS must-carry would
be appropriate if the bill also included a "date certain" for carriage of all
local-TV signals in a market.
The other condition that Anstrom mentioned was that the
bill not become a vehicle for a new round of rate regulation or a broadening of
program-access rules to include cable networks that are unaffiliated with cable operators.
Anstrom said the bill had to "keep its competitive
Tauzin will continue as subcommittee chairman if the
Republicans retain control of the House. Should Republicans hold the House in the 2000
elections, Tauzin would be slated to become chairman of the Commerce Committee, succeeding
Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), who must yield the gavel under current House rules.
Bliley has been far less critical than Tauzin of cable rate
increases since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Bliley said two weeks ago that passage of a local-DBS bill
was "pretty high" on his 1999 legislative agenda.
Tauzin's bill (H.R. 4675) authorized local-DBS
service, but it postponed carriage of all local stations in a market for three years. It
also required that DBS operators carry at least five local signals in the years leading to
full must-carry, one of which had to be a public broadcaster.
McCain pushed a local-DBS bill that put off full must-carry
until Jan. 1, 2002 -- a delay that the NCTA came around to supporting, despite having
advocated for full and immediate must-carry for most of the year.
McCain's bill (S. 2494) fizzled when the satellite
industry refused to accept a 3 percent cap on the number of households in a local market
that could receive distant-network signals via satellite.
McCain's effort also had trouble because of a split
between the major broadcast networks and their affiliates.
Tauzin had frosty relations with cable lobbyists in recent
months after he teamed up with Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) on a bill (H.R. 4352) that
would allow local governments to withhold upper-tier rate deregulation after March 31,
1999, if local operators failed to offer a range of programming packages. The bill also
required cable operators to offer a broadcast-basic tier with no cable networks.
Tauzin said that if his DBS effort stalls, he will push to
pass his cable-reregulation bill in order to protect consumers from unreasonable rate
Yet Tauzin added that he was hopeful that 1999 will be the
year in which DBS carriers win the right to offer local-broadcast signals, bolstering
competition with cable operators.
"It's going to get easier [next year], because
the pressure on us to find an answer is going to grow," Tauzin said.