Calif. Statewide-Franchise Bill Advances

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A bill to provide statewide cable franchising advanced in California with a caveat by the sponsor that issues raised in committee about enforceability and equal access will be resolved before the bill leaves the state Assembly.

Despite reservations raised by several members of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, the committee voted 9-0 Monday to move the bill along to the next committee.

Officials told the author, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), that they were concerned about many elements in the bill, including plans to assign franchise authority to the state Department of Corporations rather than, for instance, the Public Utilities Commission.

Committee members also questioned whether the bill will truly keep cities financially whole and protect public, educational and government channels, and they criticized the lack of enforcement provisions in the bill.

Critics, including the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the bill reads as if it was written by the telephone companies, mirroring the landmark state-franchising measure that passed in Texas last year. The bill would allow new entrants to apply for state franchises to serve areas self-selected by the provider.

"I'm working hard for passage ... but I'm not ramming this bill through," Nunez told the committee. He vowed to work with Assembly staff to revise the bill to address issues raised by his fellow lawmakers before the bill faces a vote of the full body.

At least one committee member suggested that the bill allow incumbent cable operators to dump their current local agreements if competitors are allowed to operate under state authority.

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