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Senate Creates 3rd Draft of Telecom Bill

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WASHINGTON A new draft of U.S. Senate telecommunications legislation eliminates language that would have forced cable operators to share regional sports programming.

The draft is the third version of the massive bill that faces initial votes before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday. The new version would let consumers complain directly to federal regulators about violations of their right to freely access content via the Internet.

But a key Democrat said the new language falls short, indicating the bill could face a turbulent passage at the Thursday markup. The provisions "utterly fail to protect consumers and preserve an open Internet," said Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). "Under the current language, network operators will have the ability to dictate what the Internet of the future will look like, what content it will include and how it will operate."

The dropped language affecting regional sports programming was aimed at situations like Comcast's in Philadelphia, where the cable company controls access to major league televised sports.

The bill retains language aimed at easing telephone companies' entry into markets to challenge cable with TV service over high-speed lines.