Telecom Bill Would Streamline Franchises


Broadband Video providers would get a streamlined franchise process according to a draft of a new telcom bill issued by the House Commerce Committee Thursday.

Telcos and others would be able to bypass individual franchise negotiations and start  video service in a market subject to the same conditions of service spelled out for cable, and subject to a  franchising fee of 5% of gross revenues.
The draft bill establishes the FCC's regulatory control, or lack of it, over broadband internet transmission services (BITS), and voice over internet protocol (VOIP), as well as broadband video service.

In addition to streamlining franchises, and applying cable video requirements to the broadband competition, the draft would allow cities to start their own video, phone, or internet services subject to the same constraints and obligations as private operators.

The bill also: creates a common regulatory framework and definition for the various broadband services; provides for "network neutrality," i.e. not allowing broadband providers to block access to content; and requires VoIP services to contribute to the Universal Service Fund.
Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America was taking a wait-and-see approach to the draft, though he liked what he saw in terms of granting network neutrality and allowing municipalities to establish their own service, but he was not as happy with removing some of the local control over franchises.
He also opposed the provision that broadband video suppliers can not be made to build institutional networks.

Cooper said that the franchising provisions "weren't as bad as they could have been, and that the bill "reflects much more nuanced understanding of the tough policy choices than had  they locked themselves in a room," as he suggested happened in the 1996 rewrite. "Lets see what happens going forward," he said.Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said the group was "heartened by the loosening of franchise requirements on new broadband video providers," as well as the "the recognition of the role of municipalities in providing broadband service."

U.S. Telecom Association President Walter McCormick called the draft "a bipartisan commitment of the committee leadership to begin to move beyond government-managed competition and toward a truly consumer-controlled marketplace that encourages vigorous investment, competition and innovation across today’s diverse communications landscape."
USTA would have preferred a little more movement, however, saying that "any legislation should spur immediate competition in the video market and if regulations are deemed outdated, they should be lifted for all competing services."