A bill to re-regulate cable television prices and service appeared all but dead yesterday after a group of Republican senators, acting on behalf of the White House, refused to let the proposal come to a vote.
Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), a key advocate of cable re-regulation, read last rites for the bill on the Senate floor yesterday, and predicted consumers would face a new round of rate increases in its absence. "Every single one of those bills ought to have the name of President Bush printed on the bottom of it," Gore said.
The White House has consistently opposed congressional efforts to reimpose regulation on the cable industry, which was deregulated by the Cable Act of 1984, reiterating its veto threat as recently as three weeks ago. The administration specifically opposed measures that would have empowered the Federal Communications Commission to review and roll back increases in local cable rates it deemed excessive.
The House last month passed a bill similar to the one in the Senate.
The cable industry has been the target of thousands of consumer complaints about allegedly monopolistic practices that have spurred efforts to reestablish some government oversight.
Almost 60 percent of all U.S. households receive cable, and most cable systems operate without direct competition.
A number of re-regulation advocates said it was likely that new and tougher proposals would be introduced during the next session of Congress in January, including measures to permit telephone companies to offer video services in competition with cable operators.
The cable industry appears to have been divided in recent weeks about the desirability of new regulation. Some cable operators have argued that the passage of a modest rate proposal would remove the regulatory uncertainty that has buffeted cable stocks on Wall Street. Other operators, however, said the status quo was preferable.
"We are not disappointed at not being regulated," said James P. Mooney, chief executive of the National Cable Television Association, the industry's main lobbying group. "But we've tried to cooperate with Congress, and over the past year did our level best to help find a legislative solution."