Magazine article Editor & Publisher

No Senate Action on Telco Bill - Yet

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

No Senate Action on Telco Bill - Yet

Article excerpt

THE SENATE RECESSED without acting on a comprehensive telecommunications bill, but the issue may come up on the floor as early as the first week in May.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed the bill, the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 (S 652), by a 17-2 vote.

Two lengthy versions had been drafted, one by, committee chairman Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) and another by former chairman and ranking minority member Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) shortly thereafter (E&P, Feb. 11, p. 12; March 4, p. 37).

The bipartisan bill voted out by the full committee was completed only hours before the meeting convened, leaving some senators concerned that the process was being rushed.

Published reports indicated that the bill -- which was expected to move on the floor before the Easter/Passover break -- may have been delayed after Vice President Al Gore contacted Pressler about administration concern regarding the legislation's cable television provisions.

President Bill Clinton told the recent American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) convention his major concern: "Are we going to have a very large and unnecessary increase n cable and phone rates immediately if the bill, as passed, is adopted?"

Clinton said "he very much wanted to pass a telecommunications act in the last session of Congress, and we came within a hail's breath of being able to do it."

The president told the ASNE he discussed the current bill with the vice president at their weekly lunch, according to a transcript from the White House.

"My concern about the bill in its present form in the Senate is, I believe as written, it would lead to a rather rapid increase and a rather substantial increase in both telephone and cable rates in ways that I do not believe are necessary to get the benefits that he telecommunications bill achieve", he said. "So, I would like to see some provisions in there which deal with that.

"I can also tell you that the antitrust division of the Justice Department has some fairly serious reservations about how far it goes," Clinton added.

The House of Representatives has yet to introduce its telecommunications ill, but a Wall Street Journal report noted it is expected to be "even more deregulatory."

"If you area student of the process, there is no question that this is one of the worst processes one could imagine," said Newspaper Association of America (NAA) senior vice president/public policy and general counsel John Sturm of the speed with which the bill is moving.

Sturm said he believes Pressler "was working under a lot of time pressure" and "self-imposed deadlines."

In various forums, including a committee hearing, Pressler has said he would like to see the legislation ready for the president's signature by July Fourth.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) has said the bill will be brought to the floor the first full week in May, Sturm commented, although the exact schedule will not be known until the eve of its appearance.

Dole's bid for the presidency may "create some dynamics on the Senate floor," said Sturm, speculating that "the dynamics of getting the bill he likes out of the Senate as soon as possible would've been present regardless of the presidential race."

The campaign factor, he added, is "politics rather than policy."

Areas of particular interest to newspapers in the Senate bill are those regarding information services and an indecency amendment previously introduced as stand-alone legislation. …

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