Pro-Cross-Ownership Congressman Eyes Telecom Panel Post

Nov 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

As Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey debates whether to head the House Energy and Commerce Committee telecommunications subcommittee or opt for a potentially bigger post, the Democratic congressman next in line to chair the telecom panel is making no secret he’s eyeing the spot.

“I would certainly be interested,” said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who founded and now co-chairs the House Internet Caucus and has been working on Internet and telecom issues as a member of the telecom subcommittee.

As the telecom panel’s ranking democrat, Rep. Markey is entitled to become chairman of that subcommittee, which he chaired from 1987 to 1994, or to assume chairmanship of a full House committee—most likely the House Resources Committee, which deals with energy policy. While the telecom post is lesser, Rep. Markey has been very interested in the privacy and telecom issues the panel has handled. He was the author of v-chip legislation requiring TV set manufacturers to build technology into their sets that enables parents to block programming and has been involved in other issues. An aide said Rep. Markey has made no decision yet. His status probably won’t be decided until after Thanksgiving.

Rep. Boucher said if Rep. Markey does decide to leave, he’d jump at the chance to take the telecom panel.

He said he has even thought about what his priorities would be if he became chairman and that they would likely reflect his personal congressional priorities: solving net neutrality issues; ensuring cities have the ability to offer municipal wireless broadband; and ensuring that telephone companies would offer Internet service without requiring consumers to take phone or other services as well.

Rep. Boucher was a co-sponsor of net neutrality legislation in the House and has spoken regularly of his concern that without it, phone and cable providers would turn the Internet into a road where one lane is for favorite content providers and another for everyone else.

Rep. Boucher said last week he thinks the net neutrality issue will impede any number of other telecom issues if it isn’t resolved soon, and that he would work quickly to move legislation on it if he became chairman. He also said that he’s been in discussions with broadband providers and Internet companies about a compromise.

Rep. Boucher favors the easing of only one of the Federal Communication Commission’s media ownership rules; he said a ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in a market is outdated and no longer serves the public.

“The cross-ownership rules should be relaxed,” he said. “There are places where a newspaper and TV station can combine without detracting from the diversity of voices, where there are synergies that can be achieved in the collection and reporting and news … that creates a better product with the result that the public interest is served.”

He said he didn’t favor any other changes.

“I have frankly seen no virtue in that at all, in easing the caps,” he said. “I don’t see any need for change in the rules.”

Mr. Boucher called questions about cable a la carte pricing and multicasting “second- and third-tier issues,” but said he feels that if cable providers can air broadcasters’ full digital signals, they shouldn’t be allowed to televise something else if broadcasters choose instead to multicast several channels.

“The question is whether a multicast imposes a greater burden on a cable provider. If there is no greater burden on cable, the broadcaster should be able to use the channels as he sees fit,” he said.