California Lobbyists Wary Of Power-Crisis Measures

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California's cable lobbyists are haunting the halls of the state's capitol daily in an effort to ensure that the industry is not unwittingly trampled in the rush to enact legislation to ease the Golden State's power crunch.

The concern is over a handful of proposals that would make it easier for cities to create municipal utilities or craft public utility districts. In their initial drafts, those proposals lacked protections for the cable industry. They appeared to give carte blanche
to those utilities to set pole attachment policies.

"They didn't address the unforeseen consequences. When those utilities take, by eminent domain, those poles, they can then discriminate in the use of those poles," noted Dennis Mangers, vice president of government affairs at the California Cable Television Association.

Mangers noted that, even without changes in utility policy, there are already power abuses in the state. For instance, USA Media is currently locked in a court battle with Truckee, Calif., because the city's municipal power company hit the operator with a vast pole-attachment increase, as the utility contemplated entering the video delivery business itself.

Operators in Modesto, Calif., are also faced with the prospect of significant attachment rate hikes by that city's utility. The hike could be as much as $46. The current rate is $4, Mangers said, adding that without attachment caps in municipal electric deregulation, similar pricing complaints would surface throughout the state.

The fastest moving bill, SB 104, passed through two committees before hitting the state Senate's energy and communications committee. There, the industry caught a break: debate on the bill coincided with the CCTA's spring legislative session. All the operators in town turned out for the discussion on the bill, helping balance out the boost for the proposal from the city side.

The measure was the topic of the League of California Cities' "Priority Focus," which urged its members to contact the committee and voice opposition to the amendments sought by the cable industry.

Following testimony, the energy and communications committee approved a new version of the bill, amended to protect the cable industry.

City officials are still weighing their options on the bill, which will go next to the Senate appropriations committee.

They could urge the measure be dropped, rather than pass a bill with restrictive precedents on pole-attachment policy, or try to get the next committee to ax the amendments.

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