Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate communications subcommittee and a leading sponsor of sweeping telecomunications legislation now before the full Senate, said yesterday that he will fight to lift controversial cable television deregulation provisions from the bill he approved two months ago.
"I don't know the hell it got in there," Goldwater said of the amendments. "It got sneaked in. I didn't know anything about it until I caught hell from the mayors in my state."
Goldwater announced that he will attempt to amend the legislation when it reaches the Senate floor -- perhaps as soon as next month -- to lift the provisions from the bill.
The pieces of the legislation Goldwater objects to would lift from municipalities substantial portions of their authority to regulate cable rates. They had not been discussed publicly and weren't available to most committee members and the public before they appeared in the version of the bill presented to the committee by the staff on July 16. The committee passed the legislation, which Goldwater had sponsored, by 16 to 1 that day.
Adoption of the language has sparked a fierce political struggle between the nation's mayors and other municipal officials and the cable industry's principal lobbying arm, the National Cable Television Association.
Earlier, Goldwater said in a Senate speech that said he will offer an amendment striking the cable provisions from the bill, which in essence changes the regulatory structure of the telephone industry and its leading player, American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), the Commerce Committee chairman, and Harrison Shmitt (R-N.M.). Packwood was a leading advocate of the cable provisions when they were hastily adopted two months ago.
"Frankly, I don't think we knew enough to write legislation," Goldwater said. "Unbeknownst to me, langugage wound up in this bill that took away all jurisdication" for municipal cable regulation. "Somebody in the staff put it in.
"I don't recall it being mentioned, and I had been telling people all over America that we will not write cable legislation without hearings. Now every mayor in America is mad about it," Goldwater said.
Representatives of city government quickly lauded Goldwater's action. "We're delighted," said a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "This is the big breakthrough we needed. We've been telling Senate members that we did not want them to be in a position to make a judgment."
Thomas Wheeler, president of the cable television association, said he was surprised by the action but is confident that the industry can overcome Goldwater's opposition. "Our game plan has not been altered," Wheeler said. "These amendments are entirely in keeping with the philosophy of all provisions" of the bill.
Adopting a staff recommendation, The Federal Trade Commission yesterday officially ended its largest antitrust case ever: an eight-year-old suit against the nation's eight leading oil companies. The commission unanimously concluded that further proceedings "are not in the public interest."
But under an agreement with the companies -- Exxon Corp., Texaco Inc., Gulf Oil Corp., Standard Oil Co. of California, Standard Oil Co. (Indiana), Shell Oil Co., Atlantic Richfield Co. and Mobil Oil Co. -- the FTC will retain millions of pages of documents obtained from the firms.
The staff of the agency's Bureau of Competition told the commission in July that the case could not be brought to trial for at least three year.
Former FTC chairman Michael Pertschuk, in noting that he voted to dismiss the case because it had become "unmanageable," said in a separate statement that he did not want the case to be read as a vindication of oil industry practices.
The circumstances leading to the decision "do not necessarily mean that there have not been major problems in the competitive structure and performance of the oil industry," Pertschuk wrote.
Pertschuk noted "particular areas of concern" such as "pipeline ownership and allocation, joint ventures, the competitive disadvantages of small independent companies" and the possibility of an increase in industry mergers. "If there are such competitive problems, however, we are much more likely to reach them by focusing on a narrower set of issues in any future proceeding," Pertschuk said.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Mark Fowler has urged Congress to drop both the equal-time and Fairness Doctrine provisions of the Communications Act.
In remarks prepared for delivery earlier this week to the National Radio Broadcasters Association, Fowler said the two laws limit broadcasters' ability "to use your broadcast facilities to speak on important issues."
The two laws are designed to insure that broadcasters give both sides of political and social issues. The FCC will take up Fowler's proposal in a meeting today, a policy thrust likely to set off a fight with citizen activist groups, and labor and religious groups.