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Senate Sees Telcom Bill

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WASHINGTON A key U.S. senator has introduced a broad telecommunications reform bill that would make it easier for Bell companies to begin offering video services in competition with cable in markets nationwide.

The measure, introduced Monday by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the chair of the Commerce Committee, however, appears to offer telephone companies less sweeping freedoms than those envisioned in House legislation.

The House Commerce Committee has approved a bill granting video providers nationwide permission to enter local markets with high-speed video; the Senate version preserves more powers for localities.

The Senate bill would forbid satellite and cable operators from striking exclusive deals for sports events. Cable companies and regional sports networks have come in for criticism as unfairly monopolizing content that consumers demand.

For the Senate bill, initial votes in committee are planned for some time in June.

A slow pace is considered likely to lessen odds of final passage by a Congress preoccupied with gas prices, lobbying reform and the fall election.