Local Franchise Officials Praise Principles

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Local cable and telco franchise negotiators Friday applauded the "statement of principles" on franchise regulation issued the day before by two powerful members of the Senate Commerce Committee.

"We were pleased that the Senators have issued principles reflecting a strong commitment to localism and the needs of our citizens," said the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the government officials who oversee telecommunications and multichannel video franchising.

"We are particularly grateful to the Senators for recognizing the important role that local government plays in facilitating competitive delivery of services..."

On Thursday, Ranking Senate Commerce Committee member Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and co-chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) released a “series of principles” they say are “essential” to any video franchising reform legislation.

Essentially, they are backing streamlining the process, with the caveat that state and localities must not be stripped of their authority, which sounds like a tall order.

Telephone companies like Verizon and SBC are pushing hard for changes to state and federal law that will free them from the time-consuming local franchise negotiating process, arguing that the government has a compelling interest in doing so in order to speed the rollout of broadband and price and service competition to cable.

The Committee had planned to hold a hearing on the franchising issue Jan. 31, but had to postpone it to Feb. 15 so committee members could participate in the vote on the nomination of Samuel Alito, and because Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.) couldn’t make the hearing after he was in an auto accident in his home state.
Ensign last July introduced sweeping and controversial legislation that would eliminate the need for cable, telephone company, or any other pay-TV provider to obtain local or state franchises.

Existing cable franchises also would be eliminated under his bill, which is to be a big topic of conversation at the hearing.Ensign said Thursday he thought the principles fell short of the mark: “While I appreciate my colleagues recognize that there are problems with the current video franchising process,” he said in an e-mail to B&C, “these principles do not go far enough to speed arrival of video competition for consumers.”

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