December 20, 2006 4:00 AM PST

FCC vote could speed up telecom TV

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"America is on the wrong broadband path," the group wrote in an e-mail. "And the FCC's analysis of the situation has been overshadowed by bad data, Bell-funded astroturf groups and a false reliance on Verizon, AT&T and the other Bell companies. History has proven that we should not trust the Bell companies with America's digital future."

Members of Congress also worry that the FCC is overstepping its authority. In a letter dated December 19 addressed to Martin, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) urged the chairman to postpone any action on the video franchising issue.

"I am very concerned that the commission may be taking an action for which it does not have legal authority and that has not had proper congressional or public scrutiny," he said. "I share your goal of increasing competition for television services, but I believe that the proposed order may be unnecessary for achieving this goal, not to mention ineffective and unfair."

Doyle said in his letter that putting a 90-day limit on franchise negotiations between local municipalities and new entrants, such as the phone companies, which already have rights of way in communities, will actually provide a disincentive for new providers to negotiate in good faith. According to Martin's proposal, if the 90-day period is reached without an agreement, the new entrant would still be allowed to offer service.

Doyle also questioned Verizon's claims that the current franchise process has slowed its deployment of TV service. Today Verizon offers its Fios TV service to more than 1 million homes. And it plans to have more than 175,000 subscribers signed up by the end of the year, the company stated in recent FCC filings.

But Doyle claims that in his home state of Pennsylvania, Verizon has been obtaining franchises faster than it has been able to deploy its video service. So far, Verizon has agreed to initiate franchise negotiations in only four of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, all of which are suburbs of Philadelphia, he said.

While other communities outside the Philadelphia metro area have requested Verizon's Fios TV service, the company has actually refused to negotiate with some communities, because they don't meet Verizon's internal deployment schedules.

Finally, Doyle questioned the FCC's authority to impose such terms and conditions for negotiating franchise agreements. He claims that Title VI of the Communications Act is clear that the authority to award a franchise resides with local franchising authorities, not the commission. As a result, he said he believes the FCC is "walking into a legal minefield."

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