N.J. Statewide-Franchise Bill Moves Forward

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A New Jersey state Senate Committee Monday approved a franchise-reform draft that would enable telephone companies to get statewide operating approval within 45 days of filing a request.

Instead of universal build-out requirements, a telco would be required to serve only the 60 most populated cities in its footprint within three years of certification, according to the draft. Services would be available throughout each of those cities within six years of the franchise issuance.

The statewide franchises will be issued by a division of the Board of Public Utilities and would be good for 15 years. Incumbents would remain bound by current contracts.

Incumbent cable operators labeled the legislation a "special deal" for Verizon Communications Inc., the company that is pushing for reform of the state's 30-year-old franchising policy.

The bill will "significantly raise taxes, widen the digital divide and compromise New Jersey's tradition of fair competition on a level playing field," said Karen Alexander, president of the New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association, in a prepared statement.

"This is a rush to hand Verizon a special deal that significantly raises taxes and would create an uneven playing field by letting Verizon pick and choose which areas will get its new services and which ones will not," Cablevision responded in a prepared statement.

The bill was approved Monday by the Senate Economic Growth Committee. It needs the approval of the full Senate to move forward.

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