McSlarrow Promotes Unified Franchise Theory

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Congress should create a nationwide model for local video franchises that applies to cable and traditional telephone companies alike, the cable industry's top lobbyist said Tuesday.

Kyle McSlarrow, new president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, made his comments in reaction to the Bell telephone companies' campaign to convince state legislatures that their local video franchising requirements should be replaced with statewide versions that are less hassle to obtain.

McSlarrow said statewide franchises could end up being less burdensome on phone companies or could put cable at an unfair competitive disadvantage. "Piecemeal policymaking is the antithesis of the stable regulatory framework that best fosters the massive investment necessary for facilities-based video competition," he told the Washington Metropolitan Cable Club. "If newcomers are subject to less restrictive requirements, or granted longer service terms, such lighter regulation ought to apply to existing franchisees, too."

He also said cable and phone-based video providers should pay equivalent state and local fees and taxes.

"The government must avoid picking winners and losers by imposing regulation based on the particular mix of technology a video provider deploys. Like services should be treated alike, and everyone should play by the same rules."

McSlarrow said any national franchise should keep economic regulation to a minimum, but also should ensure that local governments and communities can continue to expect video providers to offer "universally recognized social responsibilities."

McSlarrow also unveiled a new NCTA "white paper" detailing what stipulations the trade group says should be contained in a national franchise.

In addition to prohibiting income discrimination, NCTA says a national franchise should require that providers protect subscriber privacy, offer equal employment opportunities, make channel blocking available so parents can shield kids from objectionable programming, carry local access channels, prevent illegal copying of programming, and comply with consumer protection obligations. "These responsibilities make good business sense, and even better common sense," McSlarrow told the cable club.

Local governments are opposed to a national franchise model or statewide franchises because either option would diminish their leverage to negotiate agreements that best serve individual communities, they say.

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