Jersey Bills Back OVS and Munis

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Two New Jersey legislators have introduced bills that will enable municipal overbuilds and trim the term of renewals for entrenched cable operators.

Lobbyists are alarmed by the two bills — S668 and S1304 — and will argue they are pre-empted by federal statute, said Cathy Traz, director of public affairs for the New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association.

Bill S668, authored by state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), would compel cable systems to operate under the terms of open video systems — allowing non-affiliated providers to lease channel space — in order to continue to get the renewal terms they now expect.

As currently written, S668 would allow incumbent operators 10-year renewals if they operate an OVS. Otherwise, renewals would be limited to three years.

New franchisees could get 15-year terms as OVS operators, or five years for closed systems.

Codey currently is the president of the state Senate. Neither Codey nor a press representative responded to calls for comment on the bill.

Both bills also lay out conditions for municipalities to move into the cable business.

Codey's bill would allow the construction of hybrid fiber networks as public utilities in public rights of way and let municipalities enter partnerships with private "programming aggregators." A city could build and own a broadband system and, for a fee, a private company could program the video operation.

Authored by state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen), S1304 calls cable's highly concentrated ownership a "barrier to entry to new programmers."

The bill backs municipal cable systems, which could only be certified if they acted as open video systems, designating channels for commercial use and leasing at least two-thirds of their channels to unaffiliated programming entities.

Cardinale also included language concerning cable rates, which have increased 60 percent since 1996.

Both bills were referred to the senate commerce committee.

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