High-ranking officials from the Federal Communications Commission, the Commerce Department and the State Department yesterday visited members of Congress in a last-ditch effort to stop legislation that could seriously impede or destroy competition to Intelsat, the global satellite consortium.
Officials at the FCC said the legislation, expected to be introduced on the House floor today as part of the State Department authorization bill, was a result of intensive lobbying by the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization. Those who were visited on Capitol Hill as part of the effort to block the legislation included Rep. James T. Broyhill (R-N.C), Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).
The legislation would make it harder for other satellite systems to win approval to compete against Intelsat, which has vigorously opposed such competition.
"You have an international monopoly spending tons of money to lobby, handcuffing Congress and directing the government to do certain things in Intelsat's own interest," said one high-ranking FCC official who declined to be identified. The official called the action "unprecedented" and indicated that it had prompted the counter-lobbying by the government agencies.
"It would be as if the U.N. bureaucracy came down and lobbied Congress," the official said, adding that any legislation would "deep-six" American international commercial interests and the nation's sovereignty.
Kim Degnan, executive assistant to Intelsat Director General Richard Colino, said it would be incorrect to say members of Congress were acting at Intelsat's prompting. "Their actions will be a result of hearings held on the issue," she said. "I would expect any action taken to be supportive of the executive branch decision to let Intelsat and its competitors compete on an equal footing."
In the past, Intelsat has insisted it has not lobbied Congress but has sent "educators" to inform congressional members about the organization. Lobbyists retained by Intelsat include former Rep. Lloyd Meeds (D-Wash.) and Stu Eizenstat, White House chief of staff in the Carter administration, sources said. "The Hill was swarming with 'educators' today," said another FCC official who also asked not to be identified.
Last year, President Reagan said he determined it was in the national interest to have limited competition to the consortium. Since then the FCC has been studying the applications of a handful of entrepreneurs who feel they can provide new satellite services for less than the global giant.
The International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, whose lifetime has spanned two decades, is a monopoly that provides telephone, telex and television transmission service to its 109 member nations. The consortium, in which the United States holds a 23 percent share, was created by this country.
According to Capitol Hill sources, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.) and Rep. Dan Mica (D-Fla.) are expected to introduce a floor amendment to the State Department authorization bill before the full House today that would seriously impede competition. The legislation also would have to be passed by the Senate.
The legislation would create "roadblocks in terms of dragging out the whole approval process" of competitive satellite systems and would ask for pricing flexibility for Intelsat services. It also would require "the State Department to ensure foreign governments become our policemen in enforcing our policy" by requiring foreign governments to police competing systems to make sure that they transmit only data, the source said.