City Officials Blast Ensign Bill


Local regulators are denouncing a Senate telecommunications bill for eliminating their authority to supervise companies that want to dig up streets to lay wires that will offer the consumers the latest in voice, video and data services.

“Local governments want and welcome competition in their communities, but this legislation is certainly not an acceptable approach and will not achieve the stated goals of competition and consumer choice,” said Coralie Wilson, president of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

Last week, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) unveiled sweeping legislation (S. 1504) that would block cities from forcing phone companies to obtain video franchises -- a regulatory process that cable companies have followed in thousands of communities. Although phone companies would not face buildout requirements, they would need to contribute up to 5% of video revenue as compensation to use local rights of way.

But the fact that the Ensign bill would eliminate franchising has triggered a strong response from NATOA, a group largely comprised of local officials that oversee the details of cable-franchise agreements.

In late June, Ensign announced that his bill would eliminate local franchising. But his decision to go forward apparently caught NATOA off guard, especially when Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) had been reaching out to cities and other groups about crafting a new telecommunications law.

“I am surprised that Sen. Ensign has not taken the same deliberate approach, or provided for the interests of all parties to be considered,” NATOA executive director Libby Beaty said. “We hope that by providing the facts and educating those serving in Congress, we may be able to shed light on the variety of detrimental effects this legislation would have on consumers, local governments and our economy.”