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PANEL BACKS CABLE, BROADCAST REFORMS

SHARE PANEL BACKS CABLE, BROADCAST REFORMS

A major telecommunications reform bill is moving forward in the House despite Democratic concerns that it doesn't protect cable television customers from excessive rate increases.

The bill, which would deregulate cable TV rates and let local, long-distance and cable companies into each others' businesses, cleared a key House panel Wednesday on a 24-5 vote.The action came after the panel sidestepped two contentious proposals: The first would give cable customers better protections against excessive rate increases; the second would substantially deregulate the TV and radio industries and remove decades-old restrictions on media cross-ownership.

Instead, Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., architect of the rate increase protection proposal, and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., author of the broadcast deregulation package, agreed to hold off on their amendments until next week when the full Commerce Committee considers the measure.

Between now and then, Markey and Stearns hope to work out a compromise to get their provisions into the bill.

Markey must win over some GOP members - many of whom were against cable rate regulation back in 1992 - and Stearns needs to persuade Democrats, who are worried that his proposal will create local media giants that will have a stranglehold on public opinion and editorial diversity.