The chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on communications yesterday in effect killed H.R. 3333, the proposed sweeping rewrite of federal communications laws.
Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.) said he would now concentrate on amending the section of the existing laws dealing with common carriers like American Telephone & Telegraph.
Van Deerlin said in an interview many of his committee members were distracted by what they felt were more pressing duties on other committees, such as energy. Therefore, he said, he was finding it increasingly difficult to gain support for the aspects of his proposed legislation that would have changed the face of the broadcasting industry.
At the same time, Van Deerlin said yesterday, a consensus was emerging for changes in the laws governing common carrier telecommunications. "We were encouraged by the members' willingness to commit the time and effort necessary to resolve the telecommunications issues," he said.
There had been a continuing controversy with respect to the broadcast aspects in the proposed new communications act, which was designed to replace the Communications Act of 1934 - the last major legislation to set communications regulations.
White House consumer advocate Esther Peterson and other consumer advocates like Ralph Nader had objected to many aspects of the broadcast deregulation proposals. These would have, among other things, ended the so-called "fairness doctrine" - requiring equal broadcast time for opposing viewpoints - as well as allowing public television to become more "self-sustaining" by carrying a limited amount of advertising.
In addition, the broadcast industry - particularly the networks - had lobbied heavily against any substantive charges in the 1934 act, as they had when the legislation was first offered last year.
And, the White House staff - which had taken no position on H.R. 3333 - is now preparing a presidential message on the communications policy, which calls for more emphasis on altering telephone and telecommunications policies to increase competition, rather than deregulation of broadcast services.
Asked if White House pressure was applied on his subcommittee to drop the broadcast deregulation proposals, Van Deerlin said, "never mind the White House, I just didn't have the horses to get them through Congress."