A bill that would restore limited rate regulation to the cable television industry won a House committee's approval yesterday, joining a similar Senate measure on the floor of Congress.
Amid complaints from some members that the bill did not go far enough to protect consumers from future rate increases, the committee gave unanimous approval on a voice vote to the first major piece of re-regulatory legislation since Congress deregulated the industry in 1984.
An amendment to allow telephone companies to compete with cable operators was withdrawn by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who conceded the proposal didn't have enough votes. A Senate subcommittee is due to vote on a similar measure next week.
The House bill requires cable systems to offer a low-cost "tier" of local broadcast, public TV and cable-access channels, with the Federal Communications Commission to decide on maximum rates for such a tier. It also allows state and local authorities, but not individuals, to challenge cable rates deemed "unreasonable or abusive" by the Federal Communications Commission for programming like ESPN or MTV.
The bill differs slightly from the Senate version, which permits cable customers to go after operators whose rates are deemed "significantly excessive" under FCC guidelines. The Senate version also contains tougher language giving greater access to cable programming by such competing technologies as direct-broadcast satellite operators and "wireless cable" systems.