BASS OUTLINES TELECOMMUNICATIONS PRIORITIES

From the Office of Congressman Charles Bass

Washington , D.C. - U.S. Representative Charles Bass (R-NH02) today participated in a critical hearing that set the groundwork for legislative action to begin next week that will significantly expand consumer choices and access to competitive service, lead to lower prices and better service, and promote strong economic growth across America .

"My priorities are to ensure that competitive forces are brought into the telecommunications marketplace and they result in lower prices, better service, and equal access in rural areas for my constituents," said Bass. " Competition between service providers will lead to lower prices, better customer service, and more innovative products and content choices. Although legally exclusive video franchise contracts are a thing of the past and most consumers have satellite television and several telephone service choices available today, we know that head to head competition between providers will be good for America, and I hope especially good for rural places in New Hampshire and elsewhere. "

Bass is Vice-Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, which has primary jurisdiction over the nation's telecommunications laws. This committee has been working to reflect marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the last major revisions were made in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Several revisions of draft legislation have been created and made available to consumer, technology, service provider, and local government groups since the beginning of the 109th Congress. The current version, which is titled the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act, reflects several suggestions made by Bass to improve upon previous versions. Key among them is the inclusion of a section to allow cities and towns to develop broadband systems for their residents

"I am especially pleased that the section on municipal broadband networks is retained, and I appreciate the Committee's willingness to work with me and Congressman Boucher on this throughout the process. Although I recognize that municipal networks will not be a good solution for all communities, their options must be preserved," added Bass during today's hearing. "In case there is any future judicial confusion on this point, we mean to allow cities and towns to build, promote, organize, operate, contract for, and in any other manner be involved in broadband network development and service provision."

Among other changes sought by Bass to the draft bill under consideration include the replacement of a one-size-fits-all video service franchise with a system that would allow states to set state-wide franchise rules that reflect the geographic and demographic differences across the country.

"Although the franchise proposal has been significantly improved, I do think we can leave more of the franchising decisions to those outside of the Washington beltway," said Bass in today's hearing. "Over the past year, several states have taken aggressive action to address the lack of choices. Texas, Virginia, and Indiana have now enacted state-based franchise laws. Nine other states have now begun considering similar legislation, and a few have operated that way for a longer period of time. I think a federal franchise is a fine idea to get us started in the debate and maybe even a way to jump start competition, but I think it is worth considering that we provide the states further chance to experiment and develop unique franchises for their residents."

Bass has also been among a small handful of advocates for a more open system of programming choices for consumers when it comes to video services. The current system typically requires that consumers elect to receive a basic or expanded basic service tier from their cable and satellite systems, with only a few premium channels being available on their own. Channels are bundled in a way that makes it impossible for consumers to choose which programming they want and which they do not want.

"We clearly must protect private property and intellectual protection rights, and we should not inject ourselves needlessly into market-driven negotiations," said Bass while discussing the current lack of consumer choices. "However, the Designated Market Areas rules that group consumer into sometime illogical pools, network non-duplication rules, affiliate area exclusivity, program bundling, non-network owned affiliate agreement clauses, vertical programming ownership, and a host of other market-power creating factors have already conspired to tip the scale of market balance in one direction or another. Consumer choice and new technologies have disrupted the old system of buying music in entire album format for many people, and I believe video delivery is in store for a similar shake-up."

Legislative activity on this bill by the House Subcommittee onTelecommunications and the Internet will begin next Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.

"People who live in Washington , New Hampshire need and want the same services as people who live in Washington , D.C. , and we should make every effort with this legislation to make that happen," concluded the Second District Republican.