House Passes Bill to Open Cable Markets

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON — The pool of cable providers may get larger after House lawmakers took a step toward rewriting laws that would allow phone companies to bypass local governments when seeking to offer pay TV service.

The news could substantially help adult entertainment networks — such as Playboy, Spice and the TEN networks — as they find more providers to sell subscriptions over cable lines.

Some cable providers, such as Adelphia, still don’t provide a full suite of XXX content, and with a larger pool of providers there could be a battle to offer more content, including adult.

The House bill would encourage video competition and "strike the right balance between ensuring that the public Internet remains an open, vibrant marketplace and ensuring that Congress does not hand the FCC a blank check to regulate Internet services," said Rep. Joe Barton, R.-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which crafted the bill.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich, said that consumers could save $30 to $40 each month if given a choice in video services.

Lawmakers are responding to complaints by telecoms such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications, which say they have had delays entering the cable-TV business because some local governments have withheld permission until the companies paid for local improvements like street lamps and playground equipment.

AT&T has said it will invest up to $1 billion between now and 2008 to provide TV services to customers in California.

The telecom giant said it is spending $4.6 billion to make TV services available to 19 million homes in 41 markets by the end of 2008.

Meanwhile, regulatory authorities in Connecticut have approved a plan on the state level to let AT&T offer IPTV services in the state without having to seek a cable franchise.

The state Department of Public Utility Control voted 3-2 in favor of the AT&T’s argument that IP-based video service is “fundamentally different” from cable TV.