Washington -- Concerned that a turf battle is slowly
strangling satellite legislation, House Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman Rep.
Billy Tauzin (R-La.) last week said he had asked Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to use
his influence to move the bills forward.
For a bill to reach President Clinton, the leadership of
the Judiciary and Commerce Committees in both the House and the Senate must settle a
nebulous, behind-the-scenes jurisdictional battle that has brought the legislative process
to a halt.
Until that happens, legislation designed to allow DirecTV
Inc. and EchoStar Communications Commission Corp. to transmit local-TV signals to dish
owners will stay on the shelf.
"I think it's time for the Speaker to get
involved in trying to get the Judiciary and the Commerce committees together on the House
side," Tauzin said.
The friction among the committees, which surfaces every
time there is a bill which attempts to fuse copyright and communications law, is serious
and dates back years, if not decades. Judiciary has oversight of copyright; Commerce has
jurisdiction over communications policy.
The particulars of the current struggle were not exactly
clear -- even to Tauzin.
The satellite legislation, an overhaul of the Satellite
Home Viewers Act, is popular in both chambers because it is seen as way of promoting cable
competition without regulating cable prices. The House passed its bill (HR 1554) 422-1 and
the Senate passed its bill by unanimous consent.
The House passed its bill in April and the Senate acted
month later. But the conference committee, which must craft the unified version, has not
met a single time.
Congress is expected to adjourn in late October, but the
legislative window could remain open until Thanksgiving.
If the impasse cannot be broken, thousands of
direct-broadcast satellite customers will lose their out-of-town networks and
superstations on Jan. 1, 2000 -- one day after the DBS industry license to retransmit
those signals is to sunset.
"I am deeply concerned," Tauzin said.
"That's why I think it's time for the Speaker to actually involve himself
in trying to resolve those jurisdictional issues so we can reach the substantive
A Hastert press aide did not return a reporter's calls
The Senate leaders on the bill are Judiciary Committee
chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Jeanne Lopatto, spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary
Committee, said she did not know why the conference committee had not met. Commerce
Committee spokeswoman Pia Pialorsi said, "Sen. McCain is more than anxious to get
this legislation moving."
A House aide predicted movement would occur soon.