S.C. Passes Statewide-Franchise Bill

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South Carolina became the latest state to approve a statewide video-franchising bill, but the new law has provisions that may release incumbent cable providers from their local agreements once a new provider launches service in direct competition.

The bill, signed into law this week by Gov. Mark Sanford, assigns franchise licensing to the secretary of state.

A new competitor must file for a state license before it begins construction of a system or occupies the public right-of-way. That applicant must identify the communities it wishes to serve, and the secretary of state will notify the involved municipalities, which will provide the regulator with the local franchise-fee amounts charged and the public, educational and government channels activated, which the new provider has to match.

Municipalities can also challenge the application, according to the new law, but if they don’t respond with the specified information within 65 days, the application is considered unchallenged.

The secretary of state has a total of 85 days to vet and approve the application. Once an application is issued, the new competitor has one year to launch service, or the license will be void. Once a competitor launches in a town, the incumbent operator may opt to seek state operating authority, too.

Incumbent operators lauded the new regulation because it treats all video providers alike.

Nancy Horne, president of the South Carolina Cable Television Association, said the association looks forward to helping to implement the law, ensuring a level playing field in a highly competitive marketplace.

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