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Cable Show 2009: Hutchison Resists A La Carte And Net Neutrality

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) told an NCTA audience Wednesday that she would resist efforts to mandate a la carte and network neutrality, but warned that unless the industry wanted Congress to get involved in retrans negotiations, it needs to try and avoid high-profile disputes.

That retrans advice echoed a message from Hill staffers to broadcasters the day before at a National Association of Broadcasters legislative conference, where they warned broadcasters that pulling their signals would not endear them to legislators.

Addressing a Key Contacts conference breakfast, Hutchison, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that while mandating a la carte "sounds good," she doesn't think it would be.

But Hutchison did say she thought the price of basic was becoming "more and more of a problem for many people who would like to have certain programs," so she did ask for a volunteer to offer packages of service targeted to sports fans or news junkies or history buffs, for example.

On network neutrality, she warned that if a bill did pass, it would "have a lot on it and you won't like it." She said stopping it cold was the best strategy because such a bill would "repress investment."

Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry told reporters following his address to a similar audience that network neutrality was on his subcommittee's to-do list. He did not say that would come in the form of a bill, but added quickly he has supported legislation in the past.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), who is Kerry's opposite number atop the House Communications subcommittee, told Multichannel News that there was no "legislative emergency" that required making a network neutrality law a priority.

One thing she said would not repress investment was the stimulus package's broadband grant/loan money.

Like most Republicans-make that almost all-she thinks the bill was poorly crafted, too big, and mostly not stimulative. She said an exception was the $7.2 billion for broadband, which she said would create jobs.

She was preaching to the choir when she said that she thought the money should be targeted to unserved areas rather than trying to pick "winners and losers" in areas that are served and trying to decide when an area with service is unserved.

Hutchison echoed her call for volunteers on the retrans issue, saying that the ‘ferocity" of some of the disputes was not to the cable industry's advantage and certainly not to a senator's. "No member of Congress wants to hear about the football game that is not going to be on their cable channel," she said, adding. "If you want to avoid Washington interfering, I would stress that you should engage in good faith negotiations, well in advance of expiring deals and try to work it out."

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.