A bill that would reimpose some price restraints and other restrictions on the cable television industry easily passed the House yesterday.
Lawmakers approved on a voice vote a measure that would set federal limits on basic cable service, give the Federal Communications Commission the power to force price rollbacks on the worst offenders and encourage competition.
The focus now shifts to the Senate, where a similar bill was approved by the Commerce Committee in June and awaits action by the full chamber. The measure is expected to be far more contentious in the Senate, where lobbyists for the cable industry are expected to attack proposed limits on the simultaneous ownership of cable systems and programming services, and a provision that undercuts cable operators' ability to buy programs on an exclusive basis.
The Bush administration opposes the re-regulation effort, and the Office of Management and Budget said yesterday the president's top advisers would recommend a veto if the legislation were to win congressional approval.
Rather than imposing regulations, the administration argued, Congress should consider opening new competitive opportunities in the industry by allowing telephone companies, now barred from the cable television business, to enter the field.
Congress has already rejected that approach: The Senate Commerce Committee voted earlier this summer to have the FCC study the issue for a year, and a House proposal to allow telephone companies into the business was withdrawn in July.
With time running out in the current session, the Senate will be under pressure to reconcile opposition to its version of the bill and pass the measure on to a conference with House leaders. The Senate must also leave enough time to override the administration's anticipated veto.
Under the House measure, the FCC would be required to set a maximum allowable price for basic cable service, defined as all local commercial and public broadcasts together with any public, educational or governmental-access programming.
The commission also would be required to monitor service charges imposed on subscribers for any changes in the type of service they receive.