Communications Caution

Thanks in part to the passage of two important amendments, the final version of the telecommunications bill approved by the House is closer in substance to the Senate's more-measured legislation. While we support responsible deregulation, we also take careful note of the warnings of consumer groups and the Clinton administration, who predict that the public will pay higher rates as barriers between the telephone, cable, and TV industries are swept away.

One of the amendments, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts, mandates that all new TV sets include technology allowing parents to block out programs with violence or sexual content. In approving the "V-chip," the House wisely followed the Senate's lead. The technology gives parents another tool to help shield their children from inappropriate programming.

The other amendment limits media ownership. The original legislation would have allowed a company to own TV stations reaching 50 percent of the nation's TV households; the amendment reduces that to 35 percent. Disney's purchase of ABC and Westinghouse's buyout of CBS last week were timely reminders to lawmakers to keep their antimonopoly guard up.

A third Markey amendment, which would limit cable-rate increases, did not pass. The House agreed to erase limits on cable rates and make it more difficult for customers to lodge rate complaints. The administration says the bill doesn't contain enough safeguards against high cable rates in small towns and rural areas with less competition.

We hope that when the House-Senate conference committee meets this fall to reconcile the bills, it will heed the antimonopoly warnings. At the very least, it should take seriously the threat of a presidential veto.

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