Lawmakers began serious consideration of legislation designed to make it easier for phone companies to deliver video programming as congressional leaders began circulating a staff draft of the bill Se

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Lawmakers began serious consideration of legislation designed to make it easier for phone companies to deliver video programming as congressional leaders began circulating a staff draft of the bill Sept. 15.

Under the proposal, which has yet to be officially introduced, phone companies would be allowed to enter any cable market 15 days after filing papers with the FCC and posting a bond to cover local franchising fees.

The phone companies have been pushing lawmakers for a national franchise requirement, arguing that their rollout of video programming services over their broadband networks are nationwide services. Cable companies must go through their local governments before they receive a franchise to operate.

In addition to the one-stop franchising requirement, the proposal imposes a "network neutrality" regime on all broadband providers designed to prevent them from blocking subscriber access to lawful content. Although the draft is sure to be altered, it represents a starting point for lawmakers as they grapple with the first major rewrite of the nation's telecommunications laws since 1996.

"The Telecommunications Act of 1996 spurred the development of telephone competition, but no one could have foreseen the magnitude of the challenges and opportunities that the Internet age has presented. New services shouldn't be hamstrung by old thinking and outdated regulations," House Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said. "We need a fresh new approach that will encourage Internet providers to expand and improve broadband networks, spur growth in the technology sector and develop cutting-edge services for consumers."

One consumer-advocacy group, the nonprofit Public Knowledge, said the net-neutrality provision was particularly important.

"We were very pleased to see that chairman Barton recognized the need for preserving the model of an open broadband network by codifying the duty of broadband providers to allow subscribers to have access to the services, equipment and applications they need without interference from network providers and by requiring the interconnection of traffic," Public Knowledge president Gigi B. Sohn said.

Cable and telephone company individuals were studying the draft Sept. 15, but one executive pointed out a big hole in the legislation.

"There's a section for a build-out requirement that says 'To be determined later,' " said one telephone company executive. "As a rule, we don't like build-out requirements, so we'll have to see how that develops."

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, said releasing the draft will help the committee move legislation through Congress.

"As I've said all along, as goes the tech sector, so goes the economy, and I am confident that, before year's end, the House will pass comprehensive legislation that keeps pace with evolving technologies, spurs the economy and facilitates growth in this critical infrastructure," he said. "Most importantly, this bill will create jobs throughout the nation and bring consumers a variety of new services."

According to the draft, broadband-video providers would need to comply with must-carry, retransmission-consent and program-access rules. The same privacy and consumer-protection rules with which cable must comply also would apply.