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Whole ‘Latta’ Moving, Shaking Going On

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) is vice chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee and was instrumental in getting his bill ending the prohibition on integrated set-tops added to satellitereform legislation, which passed the House on a voice vote two weeks ago. He is now pushing the Senate to do the same. The bill must pass by year-end, or the satellite compulsory license, which allows cable and satellite providers to deliver distant broadcast-TV signals, sunsets. Latta talked with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about that bill, Internet neutrality and the importance of freeing up more unlicensed spectrum for WiFi, a key driver of cable’s wireless broadband business.

MCN: What are the prospects for the House bill being the version that ultimately passes in the Senate?

Bob Latta: I think that when it gets over there, it has a very good chance, because I think that [House Communications Subcommittee] chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and [House Energy & Commerce Committee] chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have kept it pretty concise and I think it has a very good chance of remaining in the form that it is in.

MCN: Why is it important to get rid of the ban on integrated set-tops?

BL: First of all, it did not do what it was supposed to do. When the [Federal Communications Commission] did this, they took off really on their own. They had around 43 million boxes out there and I think it was less than 650,000 have been sold. It is not close to doing what it said it was going to do [promote a market in retail boxes]. The integration ban has cost at least a billion dollars to consumers and operators out there.

At one of our hearings on an entirely different matter, the Secretary of Energy mentioned the amount of energy that is being used by the boxes. So, I think it is a win-win. It will help the operators and consumers will have lower energy bills.

MCN: What are the prospects for your bill opening up more unlicensed spectrum for WiFi in the 5-GHz band?

BL: I was at a meeting the other day [where someone said] that by 2017, there will be about seven different devices per person that are going to be using spectrum. So, when you have so much of the spectrum being used out there, you want to help the Department of Transportation and [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] do testing on the upper band. We want to make sure we can utilize it. We’ve got to be able to expand our spectrum usage.

MCN: You have expressed concerns about FCC process lately.

BL: As the two Republican commissioners said, they need to put out information more than a few minutes before [a meeting].

MCN: You’re no fan of Title II reclassification of Internet access either.

BL: When you look at Title II, and this goes to the whole technology side. We’re going to take it back to the 1930s and regulate it that way when this has been an industry where there has been about $1 trillion spent on the private side and it’s been working well? A regulatory process that drags on and on is going to kill innovation in this country. Look at the number of jobs that have been created over the last decade. This has been a wonderful sector for the economy because of job growth.

MCN: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler thinks that Section 706 authority is the way to go, but do you fear Silicon Valley’s push for Title II could be too strong?

BL: I get to Silicon Valley every 18 or so months and what those folks are doing out there is absolutely amazing. A lot of us think that old law shouldn’t be applied to new technology.