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HOUSE APPROVES BILL TO CONTROL SOARING CABLE TELEVISION FEES

The House, responding to consumer complaints about cable television rates and service, Thursday approved 280-128 a bill designed to hold down costs and encourage competition.

President Bush said he would veto the measure, which requires the Federal Communications Commission to determine "reasonable" rates for basic cable programming and the equipment consumers use to receive it.The House vote was a victory for the local broadcast affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS, which would for the first time have power over cable use of their signals.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where it could be voted on as early as next week.

Cable companies operate as monopolies in 99 percent of the communities they serve. Rates have increased in recent years at three times the rate of inflation and many customers have complained of rude or lackadaisical service.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said consumer group studies show the cable industry has overcharged customers about $6 billion annually.

"A vote for the bill has the effect of giving a $6 billion tax cut to Americans across this country," he said.

But the cable industry, which campaigned heavily against the measure, said in newspaper and cable channel ads that the measure would raise costs that would have to be passed on to consumers.

And Bush said the legislation puts "burdensome and unnecessary requirements on the cable industry and the government agencies that regulate it."