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MA: Cable Bill Travels Down Slow Road

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Created 07/09/2007 - 10:10am

from: From Berkshire Eagle [1]

Massachusetts Cable Bill Travels Down Slow Road

July 4, 2007
By Hillary Chabot

Lawmakers say a controversial bill meant to encourage cable competition might not pass this year because of fierce opposition from cities and towns.

Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, who is chairman of the telecommunications committee reviewing the bill, said that the bill is in no way dead, but that committee members need time to study it after mayors, city managers and other municipal officials statewide spoke out against it earlier this month.

“We’re going to take a very serious look at it; we’re going to dive into the issues,” Dempsey said.

Sen. Steven C. Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, who was co-author of the proposal with Verizon Communications Inc., said that the lagging bill is not a loss.

“Any bill like this, where it affects so many people and has competing business interests, is always going to be very complicated from a political standpoint,” Panagiotakos said, pointing out that the legislative session is two years. “We need to cut through the politicizing and find out how to enhance competition in Massachusetts.”

Panagiotakos, who became the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in March, recommended at the public hearing that the telecommunications committee study the bill for 90 days.

The bill would allow cable companies to apply directly to the state for a license instead of negotiating through cities and towns. It also would shorten the permitting process to 15 days. Those opposed to the bill argue that it would take away local power to negotiate and underfund public education and government programming, called PEG.

Panagiotakos’ proposal would designate 5 percent of the bills collected as a franchise fee and provide an additional 1 percent to PEG.

The bill is one of 47 bills co-sponsored by Panagiotakos this year, but it is one he has been very vocal about. Other legislators, such as Sen. Susan Tucker, D-Lawrence, who is on the telecommunications committee, have doubts about the legislation.

“I understand the importance of getting more cable competition, but in my view, this bill won’t pass until the Massachusetts Municipal Association is satisfied that local cities and towns won’t lose their control,” Tucker said.

Needs further examination

Chances of the bill’s passage this year are slim, said Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams.

“It’s probably not going to be happening this year. I think the communities dealing with this believe we need to really go through issues to see how it impacts cities and towns,” Bosley said.

Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he has not seen much of a push from legislative leadership to get the bill passed quickly.

“I think we’ve heard a lot of push back on it,” Downing said.

Neither lawmaker is on the telecommunications committee, which decides whether the bill is voted out favorably.

Appeasing communities

Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, telecommunications committee co-chairman, has talked about molding the bill to make it more palatable to communities, however.

Panagiotakos said he would support different forms of the bill as long as it enhanced competition and ensured multiple access channeling.

Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said he believes that the committee could make a decision this year.

“We’re still hopeful the bill will receive strong consideration this year. Both sides have expressed there are some merits to this bill that ought to be examined,” he said.

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