Thursday, July 13, 2006

Big Media versus Bells

The lines are being drawn between the Big Media and the Bells.
Broadcasters say they stand to lose if telecommunications legislation that cleared the Senate Commerce Committee last month becomes law, a position that puts another powerful interest group against the expansive approach taken in the Senate. But because the National Association of Broadcasters says its members would gain from the narrower House-passed bill, they might become an important player in pushing for the "slimmed-down" version of communications legislation. Senate Commerce Chairman Stevens accepted many amendments to his bill but now says a narrower measure would have a better chance of passing the Senate. "The baseline House bill is great for broadcasters because it offers the opportunity for telephone companies to get into video delivery," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. That provides "more competition to cable, and telephone companies are willing to pay retransmission," fees for the right to carry local broadcast signals. Cable operators generally refuse to pay for carriage, although they often obtain retransmission consent by agreeing to carry an array of cable television channels owned by major media companies such as Walt Disney, Time Warner and Viacom. One core feature of both bills is relief for the Bells from local cable franchise laws. The Senate bill addresses several other issues, including rural telephone charges, digital television, anti-piracy technologies and other subjects. Broadcasters oppose several of these provisions, such as sections that would allow new low-power FM radio services to operate, technology companies to transmit Internet data over vacant television channels and cable operators to "down-convert" high-definition television broadcasts into analog streams. Wharton, however, praised an amendment in the Senate bill by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., that would exempt local broadcast stations from fines for airing indecent television programming if they did not have a chance to view feeds from the broadcast network. "We are hopeful that there will be opportunities to tweak some of the more onerous provisions that would be harmful to local broadcasting," he said. By Drew Clark. From National Journal's Technology Daily

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