Missouri Gov. Expected to Sign Franchise Bill


Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is expected to sign a bill that will assign video franchising authority to the state’s Public Service Commission.

The language of the bill was negotiated between the state’s Municipal League, potential new provider AT&T and incumbent cable operators. However, three provisions that the incumbents sought to add to the bill were cut from the final version, which was overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate (32-2) and House (143-4).

Cable companies argued that the new legislation should require state-based fees on direct-broadcast satellite service. That would equalize the tax burden to customers of cable, Internet-protocol television and DBS, the companies argued.

Also, companies lobbied for non-severability language. If one part of the new regulation is struck down by the courts or through a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission, the whole bill should become void.

But legislators did not agree and refused those amendments to the bill.

The state Senate had previously removed language, sought by providers of voice-over-Internet-protocol service in the state, which would have clarified that such a service is not subject to state regulation.

The state’s PSC has taken the position that cable-delivered VoIP is subject to certification in the state. VoIP providers such as Vonage Holdings can’t be regulated, according to the PSC’s interpretation of federal rules, because calls using its technology can initiate or end anywhere. But cable VoIP has a static initiation point, the PSC added.

Although the VoIP language was stricken from the franchising bill, two other bills have been introduced specifically to address this issue, said Steve Veile, a contract spokesman for the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association.

Cable incumbents “can live with the bill” as passed, Veile said. It will allow incumbents to opt into state regulation. If the bill is signed, the PSC will act on applications from new applicants within 30 days of a certification request.