House Would Grant 10-Year National Franchise

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The House Energy & Commerce Committee has released a copy of legislation that a spokesman calls "the bill"-- rather than a draft--of a proposed new national video franchising scheme.

In a victory for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, gone are arguably the most cable-unfriendly provisions of an early draft of the bill.

Those would have allowed new video services, like telco video, to serve up to 15% of a market before cable could secure a similar national franchise. Another would have required incumbent cable operators to give price breaks to everyone in their systems, not just those who were being served by new competition.

The bill as currently constituted allows new video providers to get a 10-year franchise within 30 days of filing the requisite application, so long as they file the correct paperwork. It also allows cable to get a franchise under the same national franchise terms if a competitor enters the market with a national franchise or when their current franchise expires.

The national franchise can be revoked for "repeated and willfull violations," including discrimination in terms of service (so-called "red lining"), violating rights-of-way laws, or making false statements about service.

The bill still allows for local franchise deals if video providers wish to seek them.

Republicans were praising the bill as bipartisan, though an earlier bipartisan draft with the blessings of ranking Democrats John Dingell and Ed Markey fell apart when the 15% trigger and uniform pricing language was exised in the wake of strong opposition from the cable industry.

The only Democrat being cited in a release from the majority touting the bill was Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

Another Illinois legislator, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, praised the bill and Chiarman Joe Barton (R-Tex.), saying: "I want to thank the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, including my friends, Chairman Joe Barton and Reps. Fred Upton and Bobby Rush, for putting consumers first as we prevent outdated regulations from stunting the growth of new pay-TV services and drive down costs by giving people more choice." A hearing on the bill has reportedly been scheduled for Thursday, March 30.

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