House panel OKs national cable franchise to phone cos

In a setback for cable, House lawmakers last week agreed to award a national cable franchise--a bouquet--to phone companies and to subject cable operators to continued local franchising requirements--bricks and bats. The provisions, though not publicly debated at this point, are to withhold regulatory relief from cable until the phone company has secured 15 percent of the local video market, and to protect phone companies from predatory pricing tactics by cable incumbents. Under current law, cablecos are price-deregulated on the basic tier when pay TV competitors serve more than 15 percent of local households and are required to offer a uniform rate structure in a local market.

The agreement was reached by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Reps. Chip Pickering (R-MS), John Dingell (D-MI) and Edward Markey (D-MA). Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) is expected to unveil a bill soon to include cable-franchising relief for the large phone companies. AT&T and Verizon have been urging Congress to adopt a national-franchise policy. The House agreement came three days after AT&T announced its $67 billion takeover of BellSouth, a deal that some predicted would hurt AT&T's and Verizon's chances of obtaining a favorable cable-franchising law from Congress.

For more on the panel's move:
- read this article from Multichannel News