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US Republican lawmakers oppose any cable crackdown

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A group of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives raised objections on Tuesday to a Federal Communications Commission proposal that could lead to tougher regulation on cable television operators.

A letter signed by 23 House Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee expressed serious doubts about the prospect of a regulatory crackdown on the cable industry, raised in a report that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has circulated among the agency’s other commissioners.

“Such actions are unsupported by the record of significant competition in the video programming marketplace, and would be harmful to innovation and consumers,” the lawmakers wrote.

The prospect of further cable regulation is contained in the latest annual report on video competition, that is expected to come up for a vote at a Nov. 27 FCC meeting.

The report finds U.S. cable subscription levels have exceeded 70 percent where service is available, passing a threshold that would give the agency more authority over companies such as Comcast Corp CMCSA.O and Time Warner Cable Inc TWC.N.

The study has met with resistance from Martin’s fellow Republican FCC commissioners, Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate.

McDowell and Tate have raised doubts about how Martin arrived at the figure, since it conflicts with findings in the same report in previous years.

Following a speech on Monday, McDowell said that without further substantiation, he would not support the 70-percent finding in the video competition report.

The letter from House Republicans could make it more difficult for Martin to get the three votes that he needs to accept the report, one Capitol Hill source said.

The lawmakers’ letter said Martin’s proposed 70-percent finding is “suspect not only on legal grounds, but also on factual ones ....”

The Republican lawmakers also expressed opposition to any requirement that the industry to adopt a system, supported by Martin, that would offer channels individually to customers on a so-called “a la carte” basis.

“Invasive program carriage obligations interfere with the ability of cable operators to package content,” the Republican lawmakers said. (Reporting by Peter Kaplan; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)