A long-anticipated change in media is at hand under congressional bills that would allow telephone companies into the business of cable-television distribution.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill is called the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006. The leading Senate counterpart is the Consumer Competition and Broadband Promotion Act.

The House bill, which is expected to be voted on as early as today, would establish national guidelines for providing cable services; cable operators would no longer negotiate contracts with local governments, dealing instead with the Federal Communications Commission. Subscribers' complaints also would go to the FCC.

The House bill also would require that subscribers to Voice-over Internet Protocol services would have 911 access.

The bill's backers say national guidelines would create a streamlined system without the cumbersome twists and turns of local governments' particular priorities, which would translate into cheaper fees for consumers.

But opponents Ñ including the pay-TV industry and community access advocates Ñ say it would slash local control and revenue and let cable operators cherry-pick upscale neighborhoods that are likely to choose pricier service packages, including phone and high-speed Internet service.

Ñ Nevill Eschen

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