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Through The Wire: Let the Ballot Stuffing Begin!

What do cable TV and Elvis have in common?Philatelist-wise, maybe a lot. Cable is in the running in the United States PostalService's latest election for getting placed on a stamp, as part of theUSPS' "Celebrate the '80s" promotion. After having already voted"for the nifty '50s, the groovy '60s and the rockin' '70s,"the USPS Web site says, consumers can now vote for a batch of stamps that'll salute"the awesome '80s." Cable is in the running in the "science andtechnology" field for having "expanded the public's programmingchoices," but it's up against tough competition: PCs, compact discs, thespace-shuttle program and gene-mapping.

Lawmakers are always looking out for their voters, butnothing moves a lawmaker to act like an issue that literally hits home. Rep. Billy Tauzin(R-La.), chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, said last week that hewill soon hold hearings on whether building owners are impeding video competition inapartment houses and other multiple-dwelling units. Tauzin let it be known that hecan't hang a DBS dish from his townhouse in Shirlington, Va. "I can'tput a DBS [dish] up on my townhouse because we have an exclusive agreement with cable.Iam being deprived of the benefit of that competition, and people like me are complainingalready."

The folks at Ameritech New Media were miffed when theylearned that their membership in CATA was not transferable to the National CableTelevision Association after CATA folds June 30. Under NCTA bylaws, cable operatorsaffiliated with incumbent phone companies are ineligible for membership. Donna Garofano,ANM's vice president of public affairs, said she became further annoyed because themembership snub came soon after the NCTA contacted ANM president Deb Lenart aboutjoining CablePAC, the association'spolitical-action committee, whichdonates money to House and Senate candidates and party organizations. CablePAC chairmanBill Bresnan pitched CablePAC membership in a letter to Lenart. NCTA spokesman ScottBroyles said ANM is actually a nonvoting affiliate member, with no right to vote on NCTApolicy or to serve on the association's policy and public-affairs committees. Broylesadded that the CablePAC letter went to all NCTA members, regardless of status. "Itwas their choice whether they want to contribute or not," he said.

Public-radio broadcasters will say almost anything to getlisteners to open their wallets. Last week, cable-television pricing came under fireduring a pledge drive on National Public Radio station WHYY in Philadelphia. The stationran a recording of Ira Glass, host of NPR's This American Life, as hecalled his local cable operator in Chicago and asked how its pricing compared with atypical annual pledge to NPR. When the customer-service rep mentioned a $60 monthlypackage, Glass asked whether that included a free coffee mug each month. The perplexed CSRsaid no.

When companies are hyping new technology but theycan't get the old technology right, we get a little bit nervous about the future. Forexample, last week Viacom Inc. held a big press conference in L.A. to unveil its Internetplans. But the conference-call hookup for out-of-town press left much to be desired, sincechairman Sumner Redstone and other officials could barely be heard, sounding asunintelligible as if they were coming from the bottom of the ocean at Malibu.

By R. Thomas Umstead, from bureau reports.