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Cable bill passes House.

In a late-night vote on Thursday, the House of Representative overwhelmingly approved NLC-supported cable television legislation, 340 to 73. The Senate passed their version of cable legislation on January 31 of this year, and now both bills move to a Conference Committee before it is submitted to the President.

The House legislation, H.R. 4850, the "Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992," emerged earlier this year as the strongest vehicle for cable consumer relief local elected officials have witnessed in the three years we have been working on this issues. The coordinated grass roots effort by cities across the nation has been essential in bringing this vital cable legislation through both Houses of Congress.

Also approved was an NLC-supported amendment submitted by Congressman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) which protects local government franchising authorities from large damages claims in any lawsuit that challenges their authority to regulate cable systems.

A much weaker Republican-supported substitute offered by Ranking Minority Member Norm Lent of New York, was defeated in a 144-265 roll call vote. An amendment submitted by Congressman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) permitting state public utility commissions (PUCs) to regulate rates, usurping the jurisdiction of local governments and the FCC, was also soundly defeated.

Key provisions contained in the bill that are supported by the League:

[subsection] Rate regulation: The bill allows local government franchising authorities to regulate the basic tier of cable television service where there is no "effective competition."

[subsection] Effective Competition: Defined in H.R. 4850 as (1) a cable system that serves fewer than 30 percent of the households in the franchise area; (2) the presence of at least two multichannel video programming distributors in a franchise area, if each offers comparable video programming service to at least 50 percent of the cable community and households subscribing to multichannel video programming services other than the largest distributor exceeds 15 percent; or (3) a multichannel video programming distributor operated by a franchise authority for that franchise area offers video programming to at least 50 percent of the households in the franchise area.

[subsection] Customer Service: H.R. 4850 directs the FCC to "establish standards by which cable operators may fulfill their customer service requirements." The bill allows: (1) franchising authorities to establish and enforce customer service standards that exceed, or differ from, the standards established by the FCC; and (2) franchise authorities and cable operators to negotiate standards that exceed those set by the FCC.

The bill permits a franchising authority, among other things, to require a cable operator to provide subscribers thirty days notice of any programming changes.

[subsection] Programming Access: A tough programming access section submitted by Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.) allowing cable competitors, such as satellite and DBS "wireless" systems, to purchase cable programming, like HBO and CNN, for reasonable rates was approved over a weaker version introduced by Rep. Thomas Manton (R-N.Y.).

The House and Senate will now attempt to reconcile differences in the two bills in Conference Committee, prior to its submission to the President.

Although the bill contains many provisions that promote competition, President Bush has threatened to veto any cable legislation that he considers "re-regulatory" in nature. It remains to be seen whether in such a close race this election year the President would be willing to kill a bill that is so widely perceived as pro-consumer.

A more detailed summary of the legislation will be included in an upcoming NCW. For more information call Anna Ferrera in the Center for Policy and Federal Relations at (202) 626-3020.
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Title Annotation:cable television
Author:Ferrera, Anna Pulido
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 27, 1992
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