Community Media: Selected Clippings – 04/08/08; Tennessee Special Edition

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Cable Bill Compromise Passes Committee
Legislation Would Allow Companies To Avoid Seeking Many Permits
WSMV Nashville

[ includes TV news story video clip ]

Compromise legislation that seeks to provide statewide cable TV franchising is moving in the House with little debate. The measure unanimously passed the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday after Democratic chairman Charles Curtiss of Sparta had state Comptroller John Morgan address committee members to make sure they understood the bill…

Some committee members on Tuesday expressed concern about how AT&T will provide Public, Education and Government programming, or PEG. Currently, such channels can be accessed directly like any other TV channel. But under the new AT&T technology, Morgan said consumers will have to go to a certain channel, and then select the desired PEG channel from a list. “It’s the difference of getting it,” he said. “This is something … that requires a couple of extra steps to get there.”

There was also concern about the picture quality of the PEG channels under the new system. Morgan said there have been complaints that the picture quality is not good. “I don’t want to look at a picture I used to look at as a kid … when you had a lot of snow on the TV,” said Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin. Morgan said if the picture quality is different, then AT&T is required “to tell people it’s going to be different.” —>

Compromise Reached on Cable Bill
by Erika Lathon

[ includes TV news story video clip ]

State lawmakers have reached a compromise telecommunications bill.

AT&T Legislation Could See Fast Track
Nashville Public Radio WPLN

A bill that would allow AT&T to offer TV service statewide could be passed before the end of April, according to state officials. State Comptroller John Morgan stood for hours yesterday explaining the new bill to House Commerce Committee members. He says the legislation could be on the floor of the House and Senate in two weeks. Morgan leads the legislature’s most powerful research arm, the comptroller’s office, and was involved in threshing out the details between the giant phone utility and the state’s cable providers. —>

Cable-AT&T legislation unveiled
Summary of the most anticipated bill of the legislature as well as statements from the groups involved
by Ken Whitehouse
Nashville Post

Members of the Tennessee State Legislature have unveiled what they call “The Competitive Cable and Video Services Act,” the most anticipated piece of legislation this session… If enacted by the legislature the bill would, according to the State Comptroller’s office:

* Allow new competitors to obtain a 10-year state franchise certificate from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority
* Require new large telecom competitors to build out to 30 percent of their existing service area in three and a half years
* Require existing providers to continue to pay local franchise fees directly to local governments
* Require new competitors operating under a state franchise to directly pay local governments franchise fees of 5 percent quarterly
* Preserve local regulation of rights-of-way with local permitting protected
* Specifically prohibits discrimination based on income or race, with violators facing strong monetary penalties
* Promote the use of minority contractors to provide competitive video service
* Prohibit existing cable companies from abandoning unprofitable areas
* Require new providers to demonstrate at the end of three and a half years that 25 percent of households with access to their service are low-income
* Give video providers that deploy broadband in new areas credit against their video build-out requirement to this extent: Four-to-one credit for broadband expansion to unserved areas and two-to-one credit for broadband expansion to underserved areas
* Create a broadband deployment fund to provide a potential mechanism for expanding broadband access
* Let local governments subsidize broadband deployment to underserved areas if a TRA review determines no private-sector interest exists
* Require all providers to meet FCC mandated customer service standards
* Allow the TRA to require credits if a provider does not remedy service complaints
* Require existing and new competitors to continue to provide Public, Education and Government (PEG, also known as community access channels) access and support

The full bill, with all of its complexities, will begin being heard tomorrow in the House Commerce Committee. There is obviously a whole lot more detail than what is listed above. At the end of the press conference announcing the compromise bill, both the incumbent cable providers and AT&T issued statements. —>

AT&T deal will skip local authority
Statewide TV franchise bill is expected to pass
by Naomi Snyder
The Tennessean


AT&T could begin selling TV service in Tennessee within the next three years under compromise legislation unveiled Monday by state legislators that would allow the company to get a state franchise and bypass local government control…

Over the past three years, 19 other states have passed similar legislation allowing state franchising. Groups that represent local governments and consumers cautioned that the legislation could end up eroding many of protections consumers have enjoyed under local control. “The reality is there will be neighborhoods where this infrastructure will not reach,” said Barry Orton, a telecommunications professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has worked for local governments on cable regulatory issues in the past.

Comparable laws in other states have provided a way for cable companies to abandon their obligations to local governments and consumers, including build-out requirements that typically force cable companies to serve most of a county or city, said Libby Beaty, the executive director of a group that represents municipal telecommunications, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. “The biggest entity that takes advantage of statewide franchise is the incumbent cable companies,” she said. —>

Compromise AT&T bill said to benefit consumers
by John Rodgers
Nashville City Paper


At its bare bones, the legislation allows AT&T to get a statewide television franchise. Currently, those franchises are agreed to at the local level. But effectively, the compromise bill’s passage would pave the way for AT&T to offer television services and compete with cable…

Going into the negotiations, one of the biggest roadblocks was where and to what customers a statewide franchise holder would be required to offer television services. Local franchise agreements often require providers to “build out” to a certain portion of the population. Under the deal cut in the bill, AT&T would be able to get a statewide franchise, but would be required to offer its U-verse television product to at least roughly 600,000 Tennessee households by three and a half years from the time the franchise agreement is struck.

“So it’s going to be a long road,” Curtiss said. “But a decade from now, I think we’ll be able to look back and say we made a significant difference.” Of the households offered services, 25 percent would have to be low-income, which is specified at less than $35,000 annually. Violating the so-called build-out requirement would cause AT&T to be fined up to $10,000 per day, up to a maximum $2 million. Those penalties also extend to customers who are being discriminated against, up to $5,000 for each violation.

Another goal of the legislation was to expand broadband Internet access to rural Tennessee for economic development purposes. While AT&T would be required to offer its television service to roughly 600,000 households, that number could be lower if the telecom giant offers broadband Internet to rural Tennessee. Under the legislation, AT&T was offered an incentive to expand into rural areas. The telecom giant could offer its television service to fewer households — thereby reducing its expenditures in urban areas — if it offers Internet to underserved, rural parts of Tennessee. “Will that work? It remains to be seen,” said state Comptroller John Morgan, who was a key figure in designing the rural incentive. “I hope it does. —>

Cable bill to get first public hearing
May improve service; no guarantee of lower prices
by Richard Locker
Commercial Appeal


Legislators rolled out a compromise bill Monday to streamline and expedite the provision of cable-style video services in Tennessee by AT&T and others in competition with existing cable companies. The 67-page bill, drafted in closed-door negotiations over the last four months by AT&T, cable companies, the Tennessee Municipal League and legislators, will get its first detailed public airing today in the House Commerce Committee…

Naifeh, D-Covington, and the bill’s House and Senate sponsors cautioned that it “is not a silver bullet to rising prices, nor will Tennesseans see a reduction in next month’s cable bill” — despite a year’s barrage of competing television ads by the two major opponents on the issue, AT&T and the cable industry. AT&T’s ads have implied that lower prices for cable and video services will follow. “Once it’s deployed, it’s going to provide choice. I don’t think it’s going to drive prices down, but I believe it will level out the increases,” said Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, a sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Commerce Committee.

The bill essentially sets up a new regulatory scheme that lets “video service” providers apply to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority for a single, statewide franchise to deliver the kind of video programming that cable services now provide, over existing wire lines. Current law requires local franchises issued by city and county governments — the regulatory system that cable systems were built and operate under. —>

House committee members get overview of compromise cable bill
Associated Press
Know News


The chairman of the House Commerce Committee says he wants lawmakers to thoroughly understand compromise legislation for statewide cable TV franchising before voting on it. Rep. Charles Curtiss, a Sparta Democrat, had state Comptroller John Morgan address the committee today. —>

AT&T, cable compromise bill debuts
by John Rodgers
Nashville City Paper

[ 1 comment ]

Tennesseans rooting for another alternative to cable television are a step closer to victory today as a compromise bill was unveiled that AT&T says it needs to offer television services. The compromise bill culminates 14 weeks of negotiations among lobbyists and lawyers for AT&T, the cable industry, and local government organizations as well as involved lawmakers. Those lawmakers, who presented the bill at a mid-afternoon press conference on Capitol Hill, all stressed that it was legislation that would benefit the consumer…

The details of the bill include:

• Requires AT&T to offer its U-Verse television package to 30 percent of its telephone footprint within 3.5 years, or about 600,000 Tennessee households. 25 percent of those covered must be low-income customers.
• Prohibits discrimination or “cherry-picking” of customers. Violators pay a penalty up to $5,000 for each case.
• Local governments in which AT&T offers TV service would receive 5 percent of the telecom giant’s gross TV revenues. The current average is 3 percent.
• Incents telecoms to expand broadband Internet into rural areas as an economic development and educational tool.

The bill is expected to be debated for the first time Tuesday in front of the House Commerce Committee.

State Cable Franchise Plan Moves Ahead
by Joe Powell
Cup of Joe Powell

[ comments invited ]

Yesterday state officials provided information about a draft agreement for the state to start offering statewide cable TV franchises, just as AT&T wanted, and along the way the state will create a new oversight agency and a new fund to “promote” broadband internet access.

The document is a 67 page maze of legal-speak, which you can read here [pdf] (thanks to R. Neal for the link). It will certainly take me some time to wade through it all and there is much to review. The proposal to allow for the first time a state franchise license doesn’t mean much to consumers yet – though if the legislature OKs it, it is set to become law in July. The state commerce committee is scheduled to look at the proposals today.

I admit I am troubled that once House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s wife Betty Anderson got a job with AT&T as a consultant, Naifeh then took the long-opposed plan through 3 months of closed-door meetings and magically came up with a plan he’s now willing to shepherd through the legislature. Anderson and Naifeh are both on record saying just because she’s a paid lobbyist, she does not exert undue influence on her powerful political husband. —>

Lawmakers say AT&T bill should promote cable competition
by Andy Sher
Chattanooga Times Free Press

[ comments invited ]

Lawmakers said Monday that Tennessee consumers should benefit from a compromise that allows AT&T to compete more easily with cable companies such as Comcast in offering television services. “The bill creates a climate for competition here in Tennessee,” said House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

Speaker Naifeh and other proponents said the legislation should encourage better services and faster deployment of new technologies for cablelike services and quick broadband Internet access. But the speaker cautioned the legislation “is not a silver bullet to rising media prices, nor will Tennesseans see an immediate impact on the next cable bill.”

Stacey Briggs, the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association’s president, said in a statement that “AT&T and other companies have had the right to compete under local franchising rules for more than a dozen years. This new policy streamlines the franchise process, but it remains to be seen whether new entrants will compete in Tennessee.” —>

Tennessee Franchising Bill Aims To Extend Broadband Services
Proposal Would Assign Franchising Authority To State Regulators
by Linda Haugsted
Multichannel News

Legislators in Tennessee have been presented a new version of a state franchising bill with a unique scheme to incent new providers to extend broadband services. The bill language, which has been the subject of negotiations among effected industries, contains broad build-out language. Large telephone companies that become video providers must deliver that service to 30% of their existing service area within 3 1/2 years. But those companies can decrease the number of homes which get video if they deploy broadband services to areas that don’t currently have such services, or areas that are determined to be undeserved. —>

Compromise Reached on Tenn. Cable Bill
by Lucas Johnson
Houston Chronicle

[ comments invited ]

After months of closed negotiations, Tennessee lawmakers on Monday unveiled a compromise bill for statewide cable TV franchising with stiff penalties to make sure customers are treated fairly. —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, cable vs telco, PEG access TV, public access television, red-lining, redlining, rural broadband, U-Verse, video franchising

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