Florida’s Turn for Franchise Reform? (1 Viewer)

cablewithaview

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Lobbyists for the cable and telephone industries are gearing up for the first discussion March 23 of a Florida franchising-reform bill one lobbyist described as a "Texas-style" law change enabling statewide permits for new providers.

The bill is being promoted by Verizon Communications Inc., which has already negotiated municipal franchises in the state; and BellSouth Corp. Opponents so far include the incumbent cable industry, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties and the state chapter of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

The draft, to be discussed next week in committee, would allow competitors into video delivery after they receive a permit from the office of the Secretary of State. No buildout or service-delivery schedule is included in the bill. Cable operators would be held to their current agreements until the competitive company reaches 45% penetration.

Regulatory oversight of the new providers would be minimal. For instance, customer-service complaints would be addressed by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

http://www.multichannel.com/article/CA6316058.html?display=Breaking+News&referral=SUPP&nid=2226
 

cablewithaview

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Weston studies cable bill

City would lose its franchising rights

Weston · City commissioners are worried about a bill in the state Legislature that would strip cities of their authority to grant franchises to telephone and cable companies.

On Monday, they will vote on a resolution urging legislators and Gov. Jeb Bush to oppose the bill, known as HB-1199 or the Consumer Choice Act of 2006.

The bill calls for telephone companies entering the cable business to deal directly with the state instead of individual municipalities, which now can revoke franchises when companies fail to comply with their obligations.

"What this would do is take [cities] out of the equation," said Mike Tanck, a spokesman for Adelphia Communications, which provides cable services to most of Palm Beach County and portions of Miramar and Pembroke Pines. "It's certainly going to change the landscape."

The Weston proposal states the bill is not in the best interest of consumers because it would allow phone companies that want to provide cable service in Florida to "cherry pick" and "serve only more lucrative subscribers."

Among other concerns, the bill would allow current cable providers to terminate contracts with municipalities and reduce consumer benefits such as government and public access to cable networks.

Weston homeowners receive cable services from two providers -- Advanced Cable Communications and Comcast.

Since Comcast serves less than 40 percent of the city's cable subscribers, the bill would allow Comcast to "terminate unilaterally," according to the Weston proposal.

Tanck, a member of the nonprofit Florida Telecommunications Association, also expressed concerns about the possibility for new providers to pick and choose service areas at the expense of existing providers, which must comply with franchise requirements.

"It's just not an equitable situation," he said.

Tanck said Adelphia currently provides Pembroke Pines with a public access channel and funding to support its operation. He said the company is negotiating a contract renewal with Miramar, which also has its public access channel on the Adelphia network.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/lo...r19,0,7433469.story?coll=sfl-news-browardcomm
 

cablewithaview

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Cable TV Bill May Linger Awhile

Senate leader says complexity of giving control to state may take years to resolve.

TALLAHASSEE -- The legislative fight over cable TV services might not be settled this year.

The House is moving forward with a bill (HB 1199) that would make it easier for phone companies to get into the cable TV business. On Thursday, the House Committee on Utilities and Telecommunications voted 11-4 for the bill that would take away the ability of local governments to grant cable TV franchises and give it to the state.

Supporters say it would bring more competition and lower cable rates for consumers. But opponents say it will overturn an existing system where local governments oversee the cable services and are more responsive to consumer needs.

But the bill may not get very far in the Senate. Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said it may take lawmakers several years to resolve the complexities of the issue.

"You are changing telecommunications policy that has been in law for decades that allows local governments to provide exclusive franchise agreements, if you will," Lee said. "And while I recognize that there needs to be a change because you now have competing technologies for cable customers, it may take us a little while to get our hands around how to do that.

"As these technologies blend together, you want to have a competitively level playing field, but how to create that overnight is a pretty complex puzzle to solve," he added.

House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, was involved in the cable TV business in Bay County. He said increased competition would be good.

"You provide competition in the cable business, the prices come down and the quality of service increases immediately," he said.

But Bense also said that newcomers should have to share the costs of doing business with local governments that current cable franchise holders have borne.

The House utilities committee voted for the bill Thursday after hearing the increased competition could save consumers more than $600 million annually based on the experience in other states, where rates have dropped by 15 percent or more when the market was expanded.

Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, the sponsor of the bill, said although cities and counties now allow both cable and phone companies to compete for local franchises, it is difficult for the phone companies to enter the market because they would need agreements from some 475 local governments across the state.

Under the existing system, Traviesa said only 2 percent of cable customers actually have a choice in their services.

His bill would eliminate local governments from approving the cable franchise and would give that power to the state.

"It allows competition to enter the market quickly and enter the market fairly and enter the market at the lowest cost to consumers," said John Fons, a lobbyist for BellSouth.

But cable companies said the bill would illegally break the existing franchise agreements with the local governments, resulting in lawsuits that could tie up, if not overturn, the proposed law. They also said the bill removes a requirement that cable providers serve all communities, regardless of their income levels. And it could diminish the number of educational and public-access channels the cable companies now provide.

"I don't understand the rush," said Charles Dudley, a lobbyist for the Florida cable companies.

Some House members questioned the existing system. Rep. David Mealor, R-Lake Mary, said when he was mayor of his community, he felt uncomfortable in negotiating with the cable companies and demanding services, like public access channels.

"Basically, it was extortion," he said.

City and county representatives, who opposed the bill, said if the franchise system is changed, many of those local services could be eliminated.

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano said the local governments have negotiating power now when a company wants a local franchise. But if the state is granting the franchises, the local governments will be left asking for services after the companies have already won approval to enter the market. "It puts us in a weaker position," he said.

Currently there is no comparable bill in the Senate.

Joe Follick of the Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.

http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060331/NEWS/603310374/1004/RSS&source=RSS
 

salsadancer7

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Jun 1, 2004
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South Florida
Very interesting read...especially since I live in Florida. Though I DO disagree that the power should NOT be taken away from individual cities...reforms IS definately needed, especially with the impending merger of Adelphia/Comcast/Time-Warner. All of sudden, I have NO CHOICE in cable or one of the 2 satellite companies, and that means they can price themselves off the planet. I am very much looking forward to the BELLSOUTH entertainment improvement and hopefully, FiOS from Verizon.
 

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