Tauzin Mulls Cable-Rate Options


Washington -- In a bid to quell support for new cable-rate
legislation, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) promised to offer legislation designed to protect
consumers from having to buy programming that they don't necessarily want.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has proposed a bill that would
continue Federal Communications Commission oversight of cable rates beyond the March 31,
1999, sunset. And Rep. Peter DeFazio's (D-Ore.) bill would freeze cable rates.

Tauzin, chairman of the House Telecommunications
Subcommittee, has other plans.

"We are working currently on an alternative to simply
extending the March 1999 date," Tauzin said, after conducting an oversight hearing on
FCC operations and policies.

Yet Tauzin has refused to disclose specifics of his bill,
except to say, "It will be innovative." He would not say when he will introduce

Tauzin indicated that the bill would deal with packaging of
cable programming.

"It will have a lot to do with the manner in which
consumers are treated by their cable companies where the cable company is the only real
provider of service," Tauzin said in an interview.

Tauzin indicated that his bill would potentially allow
cable subscribers to retain their current level of service if the cable operator were not
subject to "effective competition."

That would be a way for a subscriber to reject additional
programming, but Tauzin would only offer a general comment to explain how his approach
would keep rates steady after March 1999.

"We are not going to let the March 1999 date come and
go and leave communities stranded without some consumer protections in place," he

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who serves on Tauzin's
subcommittee, said he wants cable operators to give subscribers multiple expanded-basic

"Why should a consumer who has no interest in sports
or no interest in sci-fi be automatically forced to pay for these costs?" Stearns

Stearns said a cable subscriber who wants The History
Channel should not have to buy "Monster Truck Rodeo" programming along with it.

National Cable Television Association president Decker
Anstrom addressed Stearns' ideas -- which were endorsed by subcommittee member Rep.
Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) -- with nearly the identical answer that he gave to the FCC at a
December hearing.

He said smaller packages had "some attraction,"
and they were "good advice," but probably unworkable. De-tiering, he said, could
undermine the economics of expanded-basic networks and force rates to move higher as
programmers sought higher license fees to recover lost advertising revenue.