Calif. Shoots Down Cable Rereg

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A bill to strictly reregulate cable television in
California died before it got off the ground.

The measure was apparently the victim of staunch opposition
from the state's cable operators and the powerful California League of Cities, which said
it would not support the bill without substantial amendment. It was also subject to a
critical analysis by the staff of the California legislature.

The author of the bill, Republican Assemblyman Jack Scott,
said it was designed to foster better competition in the state. But the legislative
analysis said the bill might do just the opposite.

For instance, Scott's bill proposed that franchises be
limited to five years. The analysts countered that not only would competitors have trouble
lining up financing for an overbuild with a five-year restriction, but the finances of
incumbent operators would be jeopardized, too.

Other sections of the bill, such as one governing late
fees, conflicted with existing state law, including a ruling that settled the late-fee
issue two years ago.

Most troubling was a section that would have assigned
ownership of inside wiring to apartment owners if it was installed five or more years ago.
The analysis said this constituted an unlawful taking of property -- an argument that the
industry has raised since the day the bill went public.

The bill was not without its champions. Signed on in
support were the grassroots Utility Consumers Action Network (rumored to be the actual
author of the bill), the American Federation of Labor (and a host of other trade unions),
the Congress of California Seniors and major apartment-management firms throughout the
state.

On the other side, California operators turned out in the
largest numbers ever for the California Cable Television Association's annual spring
lobbying visits to the capital city of Sacramento, executives said.

Scott also tried to drum up public support with an essay in
the Los Angeles Times that cited a rate hike by Marcus Cable Co. L.P. in
Glendale/Burbank as the impetus for the bill.

But Gilbert Martinez, state director of government affairs
for the CCTA, countered that the increase was accompanied by the addition of several new
channels.

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