N.C. Pulls BellSouth Item from Bill

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In the face of intense opposition from incumbent cable providers and cities, a North Carolina state Senate committee slashed bill language that would have relieved BellSouth Corp. of all cable-franchising requirements.

The bill has been floating around since February, and its intent is to correct technical errors, such as punctuation and numeric errors, committed in other bills. But legislators also use it to dump unrelated items, such as declaring Seagrove, N.C., the birthplace of the state's pottery industry.

So last week, the BellSouth-sponsored language surfaced, declaring that telecommunications utilities can get into the video business without a franchise.

Although observers said BellSouth supported the language, the telephone company has not announced plans to offer cable service in North Carolina. Verizon Communications Inc., which also serves the state, is launching video service later this year in other states.

Opponents were angered, especially since a bill designed to ease the migration of telephone companies into the video business was introduced at the beginning of the session, and that was deemed too big an issue to address this session. The issue was forwarded to committee for discussions in advance of the 2006 session.

The technical-corrections-bill language would have allowed BellSouth to get into cable “clear of any and all regulation,” said Tom Adams, president of Time Warner Cable Raleigh and president of the state cable association.

Municipalities were also concerned about the loss of potential franchise fees, control over rights of way and loss of local programming.

The committee deleted the cable-franchising language Aug. 22. The issue has been forwarded to a study committee for next year's legislative session.

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