Tuesday, April 08, 2008

State Cable Franchise Plan Moves Ahead

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 (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, Naif
eh 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.

That aside, some additions were made to the bill which aim to serve the public interest - such as keeping control of rights of way at the local level as companies try and bring/expand services; that franchise fees (capped at the federal maximum of 5% of a company's gross receipts of revenue; and provisions for providing local public access channels (PEG) are included.

Still, I'm reading though this complex document to learn more. Given the billions of dollars involved in this telecom business, and how economic and cultural impacts of internet access and availability are key components of this legislation, this will touch most every life in the state, it's a plan worth reviewing.

Some excerpts from Chattanoga Times Free Press media reports:

"
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.”

And from the Tennessean here:

"
Starting service: AT&T will have to apply for a franchise within one year of the bill's passage and would have to roll out service within two years after that, although the company could apply for an extension.

Build-out requirement: Within three-and-a-half years of its first TV service rollout in the state, AT&T would have to provide access to 30 percent of residents within its phone service territory, about 600,000 households. The company could provide service to fewer customers by getting extra credit for households that don't have access to broadband Internet.

Broadband incentive: AT&T could get credit toward its 30 percent build-out requirement by counting one house without access to its broadband service twice, and a house without access to any broadband Internet four times. This creates the possibility of AT&T providing access to its U-verse service to a minimum of about 150,000 houses in Tennessee. There would be no requirement that AT&T provide broadband service to areas that don't have it.

Low-income households: Twenty-five percent of households with access to AT&T's TV service would have to be low-income, defined as households with income of $35,000 or less, within three-and-a-half years."

More from the Knoxville News Sentinel here.

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