Bills offer reduced rates instead of free capacity on the infohighway

Originally published in Current, March 14, 1994

Major information-highway bills in both houses of Congress offer preferential rates for public access purposes, but reject the reserved capacity, no-cost approach pushed by America's Public Television Stations (APTS) and allied nonprofits.

Rushing to handle the President's health care bill, Congress may adopt vague language, leaving major decisions to the FCC.

The bill reported out March 1 by Rep. Edward Markey's House telecommunications and finance subcommittee contains only the sentence: "Within one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the [FCC] shall prescribe regulations to reserve appropriate capacity for the public at preferential rates on cable systems and video platforms."

APTS hopes this "placeholder" language will be strengthened by Congress or the FCC, says Vice President Ric Grefe.

The Senate communications subcommittee will begin hearings March 16 on its comparable bill by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.). Somewhat more detailed than the House bill, Hollings' version would obligate all telecom carriers that use public rights of way "to permit educational institutions, health-care institutions, local and state governments, public broadcast stations, public libraries, other public entities, community newspapers and broadcasters in the smallest markets to obtain access to intrastate and interstate services provided by such carriers at preferential rates." The FCC would be charged to write more explicit rules.

In a related development, Vice President Gore has asked the Benton Foundation to plan a "public-interest summit" about the information superhighway, which will be held March 29 in Washington, D.C.



To Current's home page

Earlier news: Becton testifies for APTS "public right of way" proposal.

Later news: Foundations stage "nonprofit summit" to rally support for nonprofits on infohighway.


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