Cable television executives say they're ready to fend off a new congressional effort to re-regulate their industry.
"This bird didn't fly last year and it won't fly this year," Rob Stoddard, spokesman for the Community Antenna Television Association, said Monday after new legislation was introduced to impose price and other business constraints on the cable industry."The industry's opposition will be just as strong this year as it was in the last Congress and perhaps even more so," Stoddard said.
The new measure, sponsored by Sens. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn., Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and John Danforth, R-Mo., would return to local governments the authority to control rates for basic cable service, which generally includes local TV stations and some news and government channels.
But Gore, who repeatedly has called cable an unregulated monopoly, said, "Cable television customers are being gouged, and current law tells the cable companies it's OK to be a thief."
The House approved similar legislation last year but the Senate bill died after the Bush administration threatened a veto.
"We tried to work something out last year, but the process moved in such a way that it was impossible to keep the debate focused on consumer issues," said John Wolfe of the National Cable Television Association..
Also, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules that could return to some cities the right to regulate basic cable rates.
Wolfe said the FCC proceeding would "address in a disciplined manner and a non-partisan manner the consumer issues concerning cable TV."
The proposed new legislation would:
- Allow local governments to regulate basic cable rates in areas where there is no competition from another cable system.
- Require cable systems to carry local broadcast channels and limit their ability to shift a station's channel position.
- Order the FCC to limit the number of subscribers a cable company could reach nationally and limit the number of channels one programmer could occupy on a cable system.
- Require increased paid access to programming by satellite dish, wireless and other such providers to insure increased competition.