Upton: Franchise Bill Could Save $27B - Multichannel

Upton: Franchise Bill Could Save $27B

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Washington -- A controversial House proposal to speed phone-company entry into local cable markets could save consumers up to $27 billion on their annual household communications expenditures, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Tuesday.

“I am convinced that if we were able to get a bill … it would reduce prices in the neighborhood of $200-$250 per household across the country for the year for all of the different services combined,” Upton told reporters at a Capitol Hill hotel.

Upton’s cost projections would produce national consumer savings of $21.2 billion-$26.5 billion annually if based on 106 million occupied households in the 2000 U.S. Census.

Upton, chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, reached an agreement in principle last week on legislation that would award a national cable franchise to phone companies.

The cable industry attacked the measure as a sweetheart deal because AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. wouldn’t have to negotiate rights-of-way access with thousands of communities, as cable companies have been doing for decades at considerable expense.

“We’re working with cable to see whether we can get them on board. We’ll see what happens,” Upton said.

Upton reached the agreement last Wednesday with Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.).

Upton ruled out a vote this week in his subcommittee. “The earliest that we’d do it is the 29th of March,” he added.

Last year, Barton and Upton circulated draft bills that would have made broad changes in communications law. But their latest proposal is less ambitious and designed to gain passage in an election year with a limited number of days for legislative business.

“We are looking at a smaller bill because, again, it’s March,” Upton said. “We want to be able to get something done at the end of the year.”