Statewide Franchising Stalls in Penn.

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Two bills that would have enabled statewide cable franchising for new video entrants in Pennsylvania are dead for this year. Faced with an uphill battle to interest election-focused legislators in a complex cable-reform bill, as well as loud opposition from the measure’s municipal foes, sponsors of the two proposals withdrew their legislation from consideration.

Municipal groups, including the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, the West Shore Council of Governments (representing 33 municipalities) and 10 individual boroughs and townships, joined in a coalition with the Broadband Cable Associations of Pennsylvania to fight the bills.

The coalition created a Web site, www.keepitlocalpa.com, and ran commercials in which actors said, “Not here … no, me neither. I’m not wealthy enough.”

The dialogue was intended to point out that the bill had no buildout requirements, and potential providers such as Verizon Communications Inc. had not indicated they would provide video services throughout the entire state.

More than 30 communities passed resolutions opposing bills that would wrest localities’ power to regulate cable franchises from them, shifting it to the state.

Officials in those communities bristled at being cited as competitive roadblocks. Some municipalities, such as the borough of Marysville, had actively courted Verizon but had been ignored, according to coalition members.

As late as Oct. 3, Verizon officials were still expecting a hearing on the House version, before the Consumer Affairs committee. But by Thursday, the company noted that the bills could not be completed before the end of the session in November.

Both bills called for statewide cable franchises to be doled out by the corporations bureau of the office of the Secretary of State. Incumbents would be held to current agreements.

Cities would continue to receive franchise fees equal to 5% of cable revenues and would retain the authority to receive and mediate customer complaints.

The new providers would identify areas they intended to serve, with a mandate to deliver services “within a reasonable amount of time” with no discrimination based on income.

Verizon Pennsylvania president William Petersen said that his company — disappointed that the bill has stalled on the legislators’ desks — would continue to obtain the local franchises necessary to serve state residents.

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