Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Let me thank the chairman of the committee, also a Texan. I have an amendment before us today that is really unambiguous and straightforward in its intent.
The amendment increases the maximum forfeiture penalty in the antidiscrimination section from $500,000 to $750,000 if the FCC determines that a cable operator has denied access to its services to a group of potential services because of that group's income.
It is my respectful view that an increase of 50 percent to this bill's current penalty amount is a small price for a corporation that discriminates in the delivery of video or broadband services against communities that are crying out for increased competition and affordable cable prices.
Many of the constituents that I represent are heavy cable users and heavy telephone users. The gas prices are very high. Tickets to entertainment are very high, and so cable is generally their entertainment and the telephone keeps them in touch with companies. So it is a large use many times of the lower-income communities in my congressional district and throughout America that should not be relegated to second-class citizens with regard to their ability to enjoy the fruits of cable competition
that this bill touts.
I am not thrilled that the Federal Communications Commission will be delving into discrimination matters that could impact an entire class of individuals. However, it is my belief that if the FCC is to be charged with enforcing antidiscrimination laws and levying correspondent fines, the agency, one, should be sensitive as possible to complaints filed by a local franchising authority that believes a cable operator with a national franchise has violated the antidiscrimination section of this bill;
and, two, respond forcefully with a meaningful forfeiture penalty that preserves the integrity of the ultimate public interest goal of universal service, particularly to individuals that stand to benefit significantly from increased competition.
Mr. Chairman, as I close, I would like to reiterate that a 50 percent increase in this bill's current penalty amount is a small price for the battle between the millionaires and billionaires, and so I do not know why I did not put $1 million here; but whether the action is motivated intentionally or the direct result of shortsightedness, cable providers should not be left off the hook for failing to bring competition to communities that need it the most.
I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on this amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, for purposes of debate only, I rise in opposition to the amendment; but I am not in opposition to the amendment.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
First, let me say about the gentlewoman from Dallas, I support her amendment. I think it is a good amendment. I think it adds to the bill, increasing the penalty by 50 percent from $500,000 to $750,000. It does increase the penalty for discrimination; and for that reason, I will be happy to support the amendment at the appropriate time.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter into a colloquy with a member of the committee, Mr. Murphy of Pennsylvania.
Mr. MURPHY. I thank the chairman for this. I have worked with you in the committee to move this bill forward. I know it has a number of things that continue to help local franchising authorities to collect the 5 percent of revenues and also allows some other aspects in there, but I want to get to a colloquy about these two specific issues.
Many localities in my district are concerned about their continued management of rights-of-way. In Pennsylvania, such management has been said to include not only the physical, but also the fiscal management of those rights-of-way. Currently, when a cable wire carries multiple services, a Pennsylvania municipality can charge rent based on some formula for the use of rights-of-way.
Do you see the bill having an adverse effect on a locality's income by shielding operator revenue in this manner?
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Congressman Murphy, current law allows local authorities to assess a franchise fee of up to 5 percent of a cable operator's gross revenue for the use of the public right-of-way for cable service. The Act before us would allow the localities to assess the exact same fee on holders of a national franchise.
In other words, localities may continue to collect the same rent for the use of the rights-of-way for cable service. The Act before us also preserves the locality's physical management of their right-of-way. Section 630(f) explicitly states that nothing in the Act affects the authority of the localities to manage their rights-of-way on a competitively neutral, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory basis.
Mr. MURPHY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. One other question.
In addition to retaining rights-of-way management authority, isn't it true that municipalities would still have the authority to negotiate franchises with cable operators under this bill?
Mr. DOYLE. Mr. Chairman, when you have a talent deficit, you have to work harder.
Mr. Chairman, just a question. Under the bill, if a local government had an ordinance that said you couldn't open a street during rush hour in a major artery, and the cable or phone company saw that as not reasonable and decided not to comply with that ordinance, where would the appeal process be? Currently, under law now, that appeal process takes place in local courts. Would the bill require local governments to now go to the FCC for any dispute resolution on rights of ways?
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Reclaiming my time, nothing in the pending bill will change current law with regard to how the cities control their local rights-of-way, the physical access to that right-of-way. They would have access through the local court system, and I would assume, if they wished to, they could also go to the Federal Court system or the FCC. But they can certainly continue to use the remedies available under current law.
Mr. DOYLE. If the chairman will continue to yield. So, Mr. Chairman, you are saying under the COPE bill, that any disputes with regards to rights-of-way do not have to go to the FCC for resolution?
Mr. BARTON of Texas. They have the option under the pending bill, if the gentleman were so kind to vote for it on final passage, and I know he is thinking about that, we would expand the potential remedies. They would have every remedy under existing law, plus they could also go to the Federal courts and to the FCC.
Mr. DOYLE. You are saying that any right-of-way dispute, any right-of-way dispute could be adjudicated at the local level and not have to go to the FCC.