TN: Competitive cable legislation moves in house

Posted on April 16, 2008 - 6:40am.

from: The Pacer

Competitive cable legislation moves in house
Heather Peterson

Comprise 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.

The legislation would allow companies like AT&T Inc. to avoid having to seek hundreds of municipal permits to offer TV service.

For people who do not live on campus this may mean another option for a TV service. Advocates for the bill say it will allow for more competition and may bring costs down. How beneficial it may be is another story. 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.

There was also concern about the picture quality of the PEG channels under the new system. "There have been some complaints that the picture quality is not good," Morgan said.

"I don't want to look at a picture I used to 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."
In any debate a compromise must be reached and the House Commerce Committee feels that one has been made.

Gov. Phil Bredesen called the bill "equally distasteful to all parties, which is always a good sign."

Some means to insure this benefits everyone is the so-called "build-out" requirement that prevents companies from "cherry-picking" customers by choosing wealthy areas over low-income neighborhoods.

Companies have 3½ years to make service available to at least 30 percent of the households in their franchise area. Twenty-five percent of those have to be low-income. Providers that don't meet the requirements face stiff fines.

For instance, if a company fails to reach its build-out target, then the Tennessee Regulatory Authority could assess a fine of as much as $10,000 a day up to a cap of $2 million in the case of failing to meet the low-income target, providers could be fined $5,000 total per household, with no cap.

The proposal would also require AT&T and other new entrants to pay a five percent franchise fee on gross receipts to the local municipality or county where they operate. Providers must also meet the mandated customer service standards of the Federal Communications Commission.

( categories: AT&T | State Franchises | TENNESSEE )