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An analysis: what the cable bill means for local governments.

On July 23, the House passed sweeping NLC-supported legislation designed to protect consumers, spur competition, and lower rates for cable television. The vote passed by an overwhelming 340 to 73 vote--a solid victory for cities and individual consumers that took the cable industry by surprise.

A companion bill in the Senate also passed by a strong margin (73-18) in January. The bills now move to Conference Committee, where Members from both Houses work to hammer out a compromise that will be sent to the White House.

President Bush has already threatened to veto re-regulatory cable legislation.

This, however, is an election year, and in an election year anything can happen. The American people have sent a clear signal to Congress, and to the President, that they do not believe that the people in Washington are doing anything meaningful for them. Citing a Consumer Federation of America estimate, Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), said cable monopolies overcharge consumers $6 billion a year.

"Think of this bill tonight as a six billion dollar tax cut for the consumers of America," Markey said.

At a time when voters are suspicious of the federal government, the bill has been touted by its sponsors as the biggest consumer vote of the year. This, in addition to the closeness of the Presidential race, makes strong cable legislation an item the White House can ill afford to veto.

But even if a veto is carried out, the strength of the Congressional vote and the political popularity of the issue threaten to break Bush's unbroken record of 31 sustained vetoes.

Cities are urged to keep the pressure on Congress to work quickly in Conference Committee, as the working days remaining in the 102nd Congressional session dwindle to less than twenty. This bill will only pass if it is completed in Conference in a timely fashion.

In addition, the shocked cable industry has recovered, and is stepping up nationwide efforts to turn cable consumers against the bill. Full page advertisements have appeared in major metropolitan areas calling the bill a "Christmas tree" (a reference to a bill with many provisions), that will only bring higher rates to the average cable customer.

Local elected officials are urged to fight back with opinion or editorial pieces of their own, urging citizens not to be swayed by the large and extravagant ads placed by cable.

Contact your Representatives while they are at home in your districts to either thank them for their support thus far, or to urge them to get behind the legislation. Let them know that the rate regulation, customer service and damages immunity provisions will bring meaningful relief to your community from cable's anti- competitive practices. For a summary of local government's positions on key provisions in S.12 and H.R. 4850, call Anna Ferrera in the Policy and Federal Relations.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ferrera, Anna Pulido
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 17, 1992
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