Bills Free Bells from Video Franchise


Bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday would allow the Baby Bells to provide video-programming services without a franchise in communities where they already have access to local rights of way.

The House bill was introduced by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Albert Wynn (D-Md.) and the Senate bill by Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.).

The seven-page House bill would require the Bells to pay franchise fees commensurate with cable franchise fees, meaning that the Bells, like cable, would not pay fees on data revenue, just on video revenue.

It would also require phone companies to comply with retransmission consent and must-carry for commercial TV stations and to carry public-access and public TV stations.

Another provision would ban economic redlining, and another would ensure that phone companies have access to cable-controlled programming under federal program-access mandates.

“Consumers want an alternative to the cable companies' annual price hikes. SBC is committed to bringing video competition to consumers, and these bills clearly reflect the intent of Congress to promote competition for consumers,” SBC Communications Inc. senior vice president of federal relations Tim McKone said.

"Cable has invested nearly $100 billion of private capital since 1996 to bring higher quality and more advanced services to the American consumer,” Comcast Corp. executive vice president David L. Cohen said in a prepared statement.

“In the regulatory arena, we have never sought to regulate our competitors to gain a business advantage,” he added. “Our approach has been to seek deregulatory parity. While we believe local franchising for video services protects important issues of localism, we have also said we are open to a discussion to streamline franchising. Any such discussion, however, should meet two critical objectives: protection of critical public-policy issues, such as provisions ensuring that new and existing competitors do not discriminate in their provision of services; and like services and competitors must be treated equally.”

He continued, “These proposals appear to be discriminatory and lack a workable way to address critical local issues like equitable build-out requirements to ensure that all residents can access new services. We look forward to sharing our point of view throughout the telecom-rewrite debate."