News

Lawsuit Challenges Opt-In Language for Cable Operators in Louisiana

8/26/2008 10:02 AM Eastern

A state court action has slammed the brakes on implementation of the opt-in language for incumbent cable operators in Louisiana's state franchising law, which was to take effect Aug. 15.

The state’s Police Jury Association (PJA)—the trade group for parishes—and the Louisiana Municipal Association filed a constitutional challenge to the act after it was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 13 in the 19th Circuit Court in Baton Rouge, alleges the new law violates the state constitution because that document prevents the legislature from creating a law that “extinguishes” an obligation owed to a parish or municipality. Since the law allows current cable incumbents to opt out of their local franchise agreements, that alters the local obligation.

A court date has been set for Oct. 27, but while the complaint is pending, the state and the plaintiffs have agreed to suspend the opt-out provision so no incumbents will be able to move toward state regulation until the court case is resolved.

Dan Garrett, the attorney for the PJA, said he is confident the court will find the opt-out provision is unconstitutional. Then it will be up to the judge to decide whether to let the law take effect without the offending language or to strike down the entire legislation, he said.

The law, dubbed Consumer Choice for Television Act, was passed in June. It assigns franchising authority to the office of the Secretary of State, which has 30 days to grant a franchise. It may still grant franchises to new providers such as AT&T while the challenge is pending.

Providers can be granted 15-year, renewable franchises.

This is not the first time the municipal groups have fought state franchising. A law was approved by the legislature in 2006, but these same groups successfully lobbied against the bill and convinced then-Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to veto the measure.

September