Monday, June 19, 2006

Guess what just disappeared from Stevens' telecom bill

Senate Bill 2686, which Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R., Alaska) has already dubbed the Telecommunications Act of 2006, has grown considerably since the original, 135-page version was introduced May 1. The latest working draft, unveiled today, is 25 pages longer.

But even though it goes on for nearly 160 pages, one section has suddenly vanished without a trace: the "Sports Freedom Act," taken from a bill introduced by Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, one of Stevens' Republican colleagues. That was the section that would bar cable companies everywhere from doing what Comcast Corp. does with its Philadelphia SportsNet station: refusing to provide the local sports telecasts it controls to competitors, relying on a loophole in the Cable Act of 1992.

In May, Stevens said: "While satellite companies are barred from hoarding exclusive sports programs, the so-called terrestrial loophole does not impose the same mandate on cable companies. As a result, through the acquisition of regional sports networks by cable operators, competition with satellite providers has been stymied."

Last week, Comcast VP David L. Cohen told a Senate committee that since Comcast doesn't treat any other community the way it treats its home town, the issue wasn't something "that rises to the level" of requiring congressional attention. In other words, Comcast told Congress to give it a pass. (Click here to read more of what Cohen said.)

I guess his arguments were persuasive. In the latest version, the Sports Freedom Act was replaced with an expanded section on a subject closer to Stevens' heart: ensuring that Alaska and Hawaii get adequate satellite-TV service.

Juneau wins. Philadelphia loses. I'm looking forward to hearing Sen. Stevens explain why.


Anonymous Beth McConnell said...

One company that should care an awful lot about the Sports Freedom Act is Verizon. The telecom giant can compete with cable providers like Comcast by offering video service over fiber optic lines it's deploying around the country right now. So much like Comcast, Verizon will be able to offer the "triple threat" of phone, video and internet over one line. But Verizon will still be unable to force Comcast to share its sports programs. That's not good for competition in Philadelphia.

Verizon may have missed the opportunity to push for the Sports Freedom Act because the company has been pretty busy in Harrrisburg. Verizon-backed legislation recently introduced would take away the rights of municipalities to negotiate franchise agreements with video providers. This legislation places public access channels at risk, and fails to protect consumers from unfair practices by video providers.

Indeed, cable competition is long overdue. But the choice between two companies with a terrible consumer track record -- Verizon and Comcast -- does not give hope for frustrated consumers. More is needed to protect consumers and the public interest obligations of video providers than this bill provides.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006  

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