Fla. Statewide-Franchise Bill Heads to Gov.


By a 117-2 vote, the Florida state Assembly concurred with the state's Senate, now sending a franchise-reform bill to Gov. Charlie Crist.

If signed by the governor, the bill, approved Monday, will allow incumbent cable providers to submit applications to the Department of State on the same date, July 1, that newcomers become eligible for state regulation. The state office will have 30 days to grant the franchises, or else the application is automatically granted.

Newcomers can define their future service areas, but incumbents must continue to serve all of the neighborhoods to which they currently offer service. But any local franchise requirements in excess of the trimmed standards are now "against public policy and void," according to the law.

However, the bill specifically protects the continued operation of public, educational and government channels, requiring new operators to offer as many channels as currently programmed by incumbents.

Customer-service complaints will eventually be handled by the state Department of Agriculture and Customer Service. If a local city or county currently regulates service issues, however, those offices retain their authority until July 2009.