Consumer outrage over cable television prices and the quality of service led to overwhelming approval of a House bill to re-regulate the industry.
The measure, approved 340-73 on Thursday, requires that companies offer basic service under a price formula set by the Federal Communications Commission, and conform to a range of other provisions designed to prevent cable from taking advantage of the monopoly status it enjoys in almost every community.Congressional researchers say cable TV prices have risen more than 50 percent since the industry was deregulated in late 1986.
The House measure and similar legislation approved by the Senate in January go to a conference committee that will work out differences for final approval by both chambers.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who wrote the House bill, said the final version will be on President Bush's desk well before the November election.
White House advisers have recommended a veto, but both the House vote and the Senate's 73-18 approval are well beyond two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
"This is another strong indication the administration doesn't understand how people feel about cable and its need for regulation," Markey said.
In both chambers, substitute bills favored by the White House were offered and defeated by narrower margins, which are being viewed by some as a better indication of how a veto override vote would go.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said during debate that the best solution to rising cable rates is competition.
In an effort to further foster competition, the House passed an amendment 338-68 offered by Rep. Billy Tauzin, D-La., that prevents cable-affiliated programmers from denying programs to cable's competitors.
National Cable Television Association President James P. Mooney reacted by saying, "The House has taken an excessive bill and made it worse."
But the United States Interactive and Microwave Television Association, which represents the only significant competition to cable, hailed Tauzin's provision as an opportunity for their tiny industry to grow.