PA: Statewide cable franchise law would meet high-tech potential

Posted on October 29, 2007 - 1:45pm.

from: Penn Live

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Statewide cable franchise law would meet high-tech potential
Saturday, October 27, 2007

Verizon's opening of a regional video hub in Harrisburg paves the way for local consumers to have a choice of cable television providers. But only after franchise agreements have been negotiated with individual municipalities.

This is another reminder of the need for a statewide cable franchising law under the jurisdiction of the state Public Utility Commission.

Given their dominance in the state, this has been cast as a Verizon vs. Comcast issue, but it really speaks to any company wanting to offer video services in Pennsylvania.

Dating to the early days of cable television, state law has required providers to negotiate an agreement with each municipality in their service territory, over such issues as right-of-way protections. Through the years those contracts have evolved to include public access channels and other community services.

But that was a different era. Fiber-optic and other technological advances are allowing traditional telecommunications companies like Verizon to offer video and to "bundle" it with telephone and high-speed Internet packages. Cable companies are also now into other telecom services.

With competition blooming, and Pennsylvania sporting 2,500 or so municipalities, we think it's time to streamline the approval process with a statewide franchising law, with oversight and enforcement by the state Public Utility Commission.

Actually, a sort of national franchise law exists through a Federal Communications Commission order that gives municipalities 90 days to negotiate a contract. Not reaching one can mean an ambiguous interim agreement, while outright rejection could expose a municipality to legal action, according to the National League of Cities, which was unable to get a court to stay the FCC order, but which is continuing to appeal.

However, the FCC order applies only to states without a statewide law. It hasn't been applied yet in Pennsylvania, but it could be only a matter of time.

Pennsylvania would be better served with a statewide law that addresses the state's differing topography and demographics, and specific measures protecting community interests.

( categories: PENNSYLVANIA | State Franchises )