LA: House OKs cable franchise bill

Posted on June 11, 2008 - 8:39am.

from: The Advicate

House OKs cable franchise bill

* Advocate Capitol News Bureau
* Published: Jun 11, 2008 - Page: 6A - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.

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After lengthy debate and several failed amendments, House members gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that would enable cable companies to get a statewide franchise.

“What we’re doing with this bill is introducing competition to the marketplace,” said state Rep. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, who was handling the bill on behalf of its sponsor, state Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans.

“We deserve as many choices as we can possibly have,” he said.

Senate Bill 807 passed the House 94-9. It now returns to the Senate for consideration of changes made in the House.

SB 807 will have no impact in East Baton Rouge Parish for AT&T, which already has signed a deal to provide its services here.

Ellington said 19 states have adopted similar bills.

Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed similar legislation in 2006 after local governments voiced concerns that there would be a negative impact for them.

Currently, cable companies negotiate with local governments on franchises, paying larger metropolitan areas more than a million dollars a year in fees.

Under SB807, telecommunications companies would file an application with the Secretary of State’s Office for a 15-year, renewable statewide franchise.

Local governments would be able to collect up to 5 percent of the company’s gross revenue from providing the service. The legislation is entitled the “consumer choice television act.”

Legislators failed to get several amendments that would amend the language regarding home-rule charters passed in the House. Seven other amendments were stopped from being heard at all by House members’ vote.

“We’re going to take away the sovereignty of governments,” said state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, who called the measure “censorship.” “We’re going to take 150 years of franchise law. We’re going to take it away and bring it here to Big Brother.”

Ellington said telecommunication provider AT&T testified during a House commerce committee meeting that it would invest $400 million in Louisiana.

But Ellington said the measure was not just for one company.

“This is a statewide franchise that opens up this state to anyone who wants to come in and bring us to the 21st century,” he said.

AT&T lobbied heavily for the legislation, which Ellington called the “lobbyist bill of the year.” Company officials held a news conference at the State Capitol as the legislation began to work its way through the process and testified at the committee hearing on the bill.

AT&T plans to offer U-Verse — a package of fiber-optic cable TV, telephone and high speed Internet service — in 18 to 24 months at a cost of $44 to $154.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, the legislation would be meaningless for AT&T. The company reached a separate agreement with the Metro Council to offer U-Verse in East Baton Rouge Parish.

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