Federal Court To Hear Video Franchise Challenge

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As promised, local governments took the FCC to court last week over its revision of video franchising rules, and now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has reportedly been assigned to hear the case.

The challenge was filed in six federal courts saying the changes would "severely restrict the ability of local governments to protect their citizens, rights-of-way, community channels and public safety networks" and slash revenues and cut off cable service to governmental buildings and schools.

The challenge was filed by groups including the Alliance for Communications Democracy, the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, National Association of Telecommunications Officials and Advisors (NATOA), and The United States Conference of Mayors.

The six identical petitions were consolidated into one case and assigned to the Sixth Circuit.

Steve Traylor, deputy director of government relations for NATOA, says his group is comfortable with that court.  He said when the challenge was initially filed, that court set up an aggressive briefing schedule in which initial briefs would have been due the middle of May.  He is now looking at late May or early June for those briefs.

 "All the national organizations are looking forward to having the court hear our concerns about the FCC's new rules," he said.

The video franchise changes were adopted in March, and make it easier for telephone companies to get into the video business by streamlining the local franchising process and decreasing local municipalities leverage in franchise negotiations.

Among other things,  the FCC's order puts a timetable on franchise negotiations, and prevents LFA's from denying franchises for refusal to agree to unreasonable build-out requirements or to undertake "certain obligations relating to public, educational or government channels"  The order also says LFA's cannot refuse to grant an LFA based on "non-cable services" and preempts local laws that allow LFA's to do any of the above.

The FCC took the action after Congress failed to pass a national video franchise streamlining bill, which was sidelined by the network neutrality debate.

The FCC caught flak from some Democrats for its move to streamline the process, and they suggested the FCC was overstepping its authority.

Incumbent cable operators did not get the same franchise relief as new entrants, but the FCC said it was inclined to extend it to them. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has not said if it plans to sue over the video franchising order-- which gives a leg up to its telco competition--but has not taken that option off the table, an NCTA spokesman said Wednesday.

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