Common Cause on COPE Bill

Read it here.

"The Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act is a major piece of telecommunications reform legislation currently being considered in the House of Representatives. Common Cause opposes this bill.

Sponsors:

Joe Barton (R, TX-06), Chairman of the House Commerce Committee
Dennis Hastert (R, IL-14), Speaker of the House
Bobby Rush (D, IL-01)

Status:

The bill has not been officially introduced, but the "committee print" has been widely circulated.

The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet passed the bill on April 5 in a 27-4 vote. Members voting against the bill were: Reps. Ed Markey (D, MA-07), Mike Doyle (D, PA-14), Anna Eshoo (D, CA-14) and John Dingell (D, MI-15).

The House Commerce Committee is expected to vote on the bill at the end of this month (likely April 26). If approved by the full committee, the bill would then move to the House floor.

The Senate Commerce Committee is still drafting its telecom reform bill, which could be significantly different than the House version.

Provisions:

The bill primarily aims to create a national franchise for video providers, but also addresses network neutrality, e911 and municipal broadband.

What It's About: Currently, cable companies negotiate local franchise agreements with local governments to offer video (television) service to communities. Telephone companies would like to begin offering video services to compete with cable TV. However, they say the local franchising process is too burdensome – that it would take decades to negotiate thousands of local franchises. This bill would create a national franchise that would set a single standard for every community in America.

What Common Cause Thinks: Any national franchising bill must contain certain protections for local governments and consumers, including:

Build-Out Requirements: These requirements for video providers to "build out" their systems to all parts of their media markets ensure that competition between phone and cable companies will benefit more than just those families in well-to-do neighborhoods. Without this critical protection, the telecom companies could engage in "redlining" – refusing to offer service to rural, low-income or minority neighborhoods, and instead focusing only on "high value" customers who are likely to buy their most expensive services. Rep. Dingell proposed a build-out amendment, but the subcommittee defeated it by a vote of 22-11.

Consumer Protections: The bill strips state and local governments of their authority to enforce strong consumer protections (despite their excellent track record in this area) and gives those powers to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) instead. The FCC doesn't have the resources to handle complaints about billing, service disruptions, etc., nor does it have the authority to issue refunds or rebates to consumers who have had problems (the FCC can only fine the companies, and that money would go into the public treasury-not to wronged consumers). Local problems deserve local solutions.

PEG Access: Public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels are important community resources. The bill requires new video providers to provide the same channel capacity for PEG as pre-existing cable operators in the market provided, and allows cities and towns to require one additional PEG channel every 10 years. We support efforts to preserve and strengthen PEG access."

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