Cities Praise Stevens' Franchise Bill Draft

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Local franchising authorities and state and local government officials praised Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens' latest draft of a telecommunications/video franchising reform bill.

While they say it is not one they would have written "in a perfect world," in a letter to Stevens June 20, they praised several changes that they say preserve more local control over franchising than a version of franchise reform that has already passed in the House.

Particularly, they cited maintaining local government control over rights of way disputes, "improvements in the "gross revenue" definition upon which the franchise fee to local governments is based (it now includes commissions on home shopping sales), and clarifying that IPTV services like AT&T's video offering come under the definition of video service.

AT&T has argued that its service is not the same as cable service. The Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control agrees, recently ruling 3-2 that its Lightspeed video offering was not subject to cable franchising requirements. The two that voted against it wanted to wait until the Congress had settled on a definition.

The goal of both the House and Senate bills is to create a default national franchise that they hope will speed telco and other competition to cable, bringing price and service competition and Internet access to more of the country.

The organizations writing Stevens, including the National League of Cities, Conference of Mayors and National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers, said they were still concerned that prohibitions on "redlining"--cherry-picking the most profitable areas of community communicty to provide service to, at least initially--were not strong enough, but said they were hopeful they would be strengthened via amendments being offered to the bill. The bill is being marked up June 22.

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