Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Clinton administration amplified its concerns Wednesday about Senate legislation that would free telecommunications companies to provide an array of futuristic services and devices to consumers.
The administration distributed an eight-page statement, obtained by The Associated Press, to members of the Senate, which are expected to vote on the bill as early as May.
The White House, which wants telecommunications laws reformed this year, had made clear it has serious concerns about the Senate bill and has been pushing for changes.
One of the biggest involves a provision that would allow a telephone company to buy out a cable system in its local service area.
The Senate bill doesn't impose any restrictions on these buyouts; supporters say existing antitrust laws are adequate to protect competition.
``Permitting widespread mergers between telcos (telephone companies) and cable systems ... could undermine this potential competition in both the video and telephony markets before it begins, potentially raising telephone and cable prices paid by consumers,'' the statement said.
The administration is willing to let buyouts occur if they are severely restricted.
The Senate bill would let local, long-distance and cable companies into each others' businesses.
The bill also would deregulate cable rates and provide some deregulation of the broadcast industry.
In the statement, the administration also amplified on its opposition to provisions that would relax local and national ownership limits on broadcast outlets and extend the life of television and radio licences.
Together, the provisions would ``allow greater concentration in the broadcast industry and less rigorous and timely oversight of broadcast licenses'' by federal regulators, the administration position paper said.
It also called for a role in determining whether existing foreign ownership restrictions should be lifted for a particular country.
And the statement reiterated administration concerns about cable rate deregulation, the terms of local telephone company entry into the long-distance business, the lack of a role for the Justice Department in determining local phone company entry into long-distance and federal pre-emption of state telecommunications regulations, including phone rates.
A lobbyist for the seven regional Bell companies opposed the administration's sought-after changes. ``The administration is calling for additional layers of bureaucracy and government interference when the American public clearly voted last November for less of both,'' said Gary McBee, chairman of the Alliance for Competitive Communications.
Two weeks ago, President Clinton said the bill as currently written would not protect consumers from unreasonable increases in their monthly payments for telephone and cable television service. He stopped short of saying he would veto the measure.
Similar legislation has yet to be offered in the House.
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