December 20, 2006 12:34 PM PST

FCC adopts relief for telecom companies planning TV offerings

WASHINGTON--In a boost for telephone companies, a divided Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday approved new rules designed to make it easier for those firms to enter the TV market.

Over objections from the two Democratic commissioners, regulators voted 3-2 to adopt the order that will set time limits for local communities to consider franchise agreements and establish FCC oversight to make sure communities don't require "unreasonable" conditions as part of their franchise agreements.

"I think it is critical that we make sure we're doing all we can to make sure we have greater competition in the market for the delivery of multichannel programming," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. He has argued that the surest way to do that--and to lower prices--is to ease the entry of telephone companies into the market.

As described at Wednesday's public meeting here, the FCC's order would require local governments to approve new franchise agreements within six months for new entrants and within 90 days for companies with existing access to city facilities; limit franchise fees; and prohibit so-called "build-out" requirements if they obligate new market entrants to serve all of a particular area within an "unreasonable" time frame or on a scale not expected of existing companies serving the area. A copy of the order's text was not immediately available.

The provisions are a direct response to ongoing lobbying by the nation's major phone companies, which have complained that the process by which companies must negotiate local franchise agreements with individual cities and municipalities before rolling out TV offerings is cumbersome and overly sluggish.

Phone companies were quick to applaud the FCC's decision. In a statement, Susanne Guyer, a Verizon senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, said the agency "is standing up for consumers who are tired of skyrocketing cable bills and want greater choice in service providers and programming." The decision will help Verizon meet an "aggressive" schedule for rollout of its Fios TV service, Guyer added.

Lobby has asked for more widespread relief
The FCC rules attempt to establish national guidance but do not trump state laws that have already been enacted to address the phone companies' concerns, agency representatives said. Fourteen states, including Texas and California, have introduced some type of franchise reform. But the telecommunications lobby has been pleading for more widespread relief on Capitol Hill and now from the FCC.

Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein railed against the new rules, saying there was not sufficient evidence that localities have been standing in the way of telephone companies' rolling out new TV services.

"We should have a record clearly demonstrating those local authorities are not up to the task of handling this infrastructure build-out," Copps said. Adelstein grilled members of the FCC's Media Bureau, which helped draft the rules, on names of specific communities that had reported problems, but they were unable to give him immediate answers.

When his turn to speak arrived, Martin ticked off a handful of instances in which it took BellSouth more than two years to receive video franchises in local communities in Florida and Georgia, though he did not explain the reasons for the delays. He also drew attention to an instance in which a New York town declined to grant Verizon a franchise unless it agreed "to film the holiday visit from Santa this year."

The Democratic commissioners also said the order runs afoul of a framework for granting local franchises established by federal law. Congress also drew up its own new national franchise proposal in the last session as part of a broader rewrite of communications laws, but that contentious bill failed to make it to a full vote in the U.S. Senate before politicians went home this month.

CONTINUED: Misgivings from Democrats…
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Oh boo hoo. So the phone companies want in on video but do not want to go through the same legal constraints that the cable companies had to do. Thats so typical of them. When cable companies wanted to offer phone service did they get a break on the regulations they had to follow? Nope. But, since the phone companies generally have bigger pockets, I guess they can afford to grease the wheels that supposedly are balanced for all.
Posted by tanis143 (122 comments )
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Even playing field
If a law is passed, it should say that two companies offering identical services should be given the same terms. If Cox communication offers phone, internet and TV, and they are required to do X and pay Y, then ATT or Verision should be required to do X and pay Y to enter the same market with the same services.

The only problem I see is that they will find small differences in there service. "We require our customers to buy X peace of hardware while the other guy rents it out, we should not be held to the same standard..."

Allowances must be made for build out time. Lets say ATT is required to offer service in some low income neighborhood , They should be given about the same time it took the cable company to build to that place.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
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FCC doesn't go far enough
THe FCC must use this "baby step" to further open cable to competitive access for service, content and program producers and providers. And telecom must not be ignored in respect to forcing competitive access either.
Although Commissioner Martin rightly noted the over 100 percent increase in cable rates in just a short period , the fact is that since "dereg" cable rates are up in many areas over 300%, over eight times the rate of inflation. Cable excuses regarding "must carry" must also be dealt with.
And let's not forget that cable makes tons of money -read Billions- that's Billions with a bib "B" folks- from advertising. Why don't rates reflect the advertising profits? Cable should be FREE in view of the fact that cable's original premise- their "raison d'etre" -was that by investing in cable infrastructure to provide signals to homes, that rates would cover the cost of the infrastructure and signal delivery; nothing was said that should have been about offsetting rates with profits from additional services like Internet, or advertising, or others soon to come.
Cable has been profiteering from consumers for over 20 years, to the tune of over $200 Billion or more dollars-that's Billions with a big "B" folks!-in monopoly profits.
Who said crime doesn't pay!

Barry Dennis
Posted by bdennis410 (175 comments )
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