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FL: Cable franchise bill moves forward

By saveaccess
Created 04/19/2007 - 7:01am

from: Bradenton Herald [1]

Cable franchise bill moves forward

Herald Staff Writer

Snubbing the lobbyists who showed for the battle, a panel of state lawmakers Wednesday approved a drive to put cable TV franchising in the state's hands.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, would also mean statewide franchising rights for phone companies.

But senators on the Committee on Community Affairs, which heard the proposal Wednesday, devoted a large chunk of their debate to amendments that didn't make into the bill, leaving a roomful of lobbyists without time to speak.

Bennett's bill, dubbed the "Consumer Choice Act of 2007," has stirred controversy in the last few weeks, drawing hundreds of lobbyists from the phone and cable industries into the fray.

Supporters of the measure say the bill would foster much-needed competition in the cable industry. By passing the bill, Bennett said, state lawmakers would put "the consumers, not the government, in control."

Now, cable companies are forced to negotiate contracts with local governments, which typically force them to offer service to everyone in their areas

Dozens of opponents to the measure - mainly cable lobbyists - have argued that it would allow telecoms to cherry-pick customers. Poorer Floridians in rural communities would probably be left out in the cold, they said.

Some of those naysayers were relieved when Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, managed to tweak the bill a few weeks ago. Under his amendment, new companies would be required to give cable access to at least half the low-income households in their service areas within five years.

But senators said Wednesday they still aren't happy with the bill, which will head next to the Committee on General Government Appropriations.

The House has already passed the bill's companion, which is now waiting to be heard by the full Senate.

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