GOP CONCERNS IMPERIL TELCO BILL

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WASHINGTON-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R., Kan.), and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.) last week ripped the telecommunications compromise bill, raising new concerns about the legislation's prospects.

A coalition of other leading lawmakers-Sens. Larry Pressler (R., S.D.) and Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.) and Reps. Thomas Bliley (R., Va.) and John Dingell (D., Mich.)-announced the compromise Dec. 20, with the hope that it would garner bipartisan support.

But while the White House gave the compromise rave reviews, some congressional Republicans complained it was overly regulatory.

Much to the dismay of broadcasters, Sen. Dole slammed a compromise provision aimed at ensuring that broadcasters won't have to compete for advanced TV frequencies, contending that it was a "spectrum giveaway."

Added Rep. Gingrich, "Both of us have expressed some concerns about some pieces of the bill."

In the wake of the compromise, many sources had been hoping for quick approval by the White House. But at press time, it was unclear when the legislation would be brought to the House and Senate floors.

Complicating matters, according to sources, was that some GOP lawmakers-including Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Reps. Jack Fields of Texas and Mike Oxley of Ohio-are pressing to reopen the compromise.

"While everyone wants to reach an agreement as soon as possible, there are fundamental principles to which the House conferees are committed-principles which we are not willing to abandon simply to reach a deal," Rep. Fields said.

Under the compromise proposal, the national broadcast TV ownership cap would be raised to 35%.

But network-supported language backed by Rep. Fields that would have made it easy for the Federal Communications Commission to waive the cap was scrapped.

Another provision would ax a rule restricting broadcast network ownership of cable TV systems.

Another provision would repeal a law that bars broadcasters from buying cable systems in their service areas but leave on the books an FCC rule that also bars such cross-ownership.

In addition, it abolishes the one-to-a-market rule in the top 50 markets. That regulation currently bars broadcasters from buying TV and radio stations in the same market.

One GOP source said the compromise also directs the FCC to re-examine its media ownership rules, including the 35% cap, every two years.

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