The power will shift in January. A new Congress will be seated, and control of the Senate and the House will be in the hands of the Democratic majorities. You knew all that. What you want to know is whether it will make a difference to cable. My answer is yes. The soon-to-be controlling party has said it wants to focus on big issues, like Iraq and out-of-control health care costs and immigration. Notice there doesn’t seem to be a major groundswell of concern about net neutrality. Don’t panic. The fact that we will be facing a different set of leaders in Congress and that this will influence how the cable industry argues its case, I think, is obvious. Of course, we will have to respond to pressure coming from a markedly different direction as the Democrats take over. But does that mean bad things for cable? Not necessarily. From my vantage point it appears that the major change will be that we will have to articulate our positions in a somewhat different way. This change in Congress may, in fact, turn out to be good for the industry, because the electorate has sent a clear message that the middle, rather than the edges, is where they want their representatives to be. Another message was that Congress should focus on big issues, and getting things done, rather than on symbolic gestures, micromanagement and taking control away from the individual, which is where we seemed to be heading. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made some speeches a few weeks ago that neatly summed up where he thought the Republicans should go. He argued that reclaiming the real conservative position required a return to fighting for "small government and low taxes, for personal freedom and responsibility." Now if the Republicans follow him, maybe he can point that out to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and follow his own rhetoric and stop trying to enlarge government control and bureaucracy by imposing things like a la carte pricing (and, as McCain has already noted, that would wind up having to include government price regulations). Personal freedom includes folks being able to decide what they want to watch on their own— they don’t need the government’s help. The on/off switch and parental controls work just fine. On the Democratic side, the Ed Markeys and John Dingells of the soon-to-be controlling party have said they want to focus on big issues, the ones that need fixing right away, like Iraq and out-of-control health care costs and immigration. Notice that there doesn’t seem to be a major groundswell of concern about net neutrality, especially since no one can point to a current, actual problem! Do we believe them? Will they actually do what they say? Well, this is Washington, so no guarantees. A former FCC attorney and president of CATA, Steve is a columnist and consultant in the cable television industry. He can be reached at steve@effros.com.

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