Franchise rights, Cable Television And Local Government

Franchise rights, Cable Television And Local Government
By SABRINA BATES
Chief Staff Writer
Not only do local governments across the state have negotiation rights, they also have the power to act as representatives for the people when it comes to resolving issues with their cable companies. These are only two of the many advantages the Tennessee Municipal League claim cities and counties maintain by having control of video services franchising.
The very fibers of these “advantages” are also under fire for the second year by a push from lobbyists for a statewide AT&T cable franchise bill. Apparently, AT&T is looking to provide some competition for cable companies across the state by prompting the General Assembly to adopt at statewide franchise agreement that would allow the company to compete in the state of Tennessee. Presently, AT&T can compete within the state for cable services provided it enters into a franchise agreement on a local level.
“This is a lot of smoke and mirrors. Cable has played by the rules. AT&T could walk into any local government city hall today, apply and be granted approval in less than 90 days. We welcome AT&T to compete for business, but they should do so by the laws that exist to protect consumers and local governments and that treat all companies the same. The sweetheart legislation AT&T is trying to pass is great for shareholders, but really, really bad for Tennesseans,” Stacey Briggs, TCTA executive director commented.
The TCTA is the Tennessee Cable Telecommun-ications Association.
Briggs said there is no statewide legislation that bans AT&T from providing its video services in Tennessee.
State legislators will once again, be faced with enacting a law that would enter into a statewide franchise agreement with AT&T, a bill some claim would weaken the control of local governments and “build-out” requirements.
These “build-out” requirements include local municipalities to benefit from cable franchise fees in exchange for cable services provided to all residents, not just particular neighborhoods as well as requiring the local cable company to provide public access television.
Basically, local governments currently act as a middleman between consumers and their cable company provider. With the passage of a statewide franchise agreement, the middleman would be eliminated and consumers would deal directly with the corporation.
“The corporate goal is passed legislation. This would take away local control and they would not have to build to all neighborhoods,” Briggs said.
Advocates of the proposed legislation claim Tennesseans would have relief from cable rate hikes that have driven prices up 93 percent in the last decade, according to a mail-out campaign by TV4US.
The mail-out was sent to Martin residents urging them to ask Martin Mayor Randy Brundige to support the legislation.
“Statewide franchise reform would bring new jobs and investment to the state, while for the first time, giving families a real choice to cable TV,” Scott Greenberger of TV4US stated.
A press release issued by the Communications Workers of America announcing a staged picket in Columbia, SC alleges that within a Southeastern nine-state area, AT&T has managed to remove 1,519 jobs with 300 of those lost in South Carolina in one year since the state’s franchise agreement legislation was enacted.
In an email from TML’s Margaret Mahery issued to mayors and city managers across the state, Mahery cites under an FCC order, cities must either deny AT&T’s request for a franchise within 90 days or allow AT&T to begin to provide service within the municipality.
The email also claims AT&T lobbyist Jim Spears was quoted last year saying once AT&T has secured passage of its bill, the corporation planned to serve about 60 cities in Tennessee. According to Briggs, the company services about 100,000 customers across the nation.
Reportedly, AT&T pulled its bill during the final days of the 2007 legislative session, but January 2008 will offer state legislators another opportunity to consider a statewide franchise video services bill.
Meanwhile, the Martin Board of Mayor and Aldermen are awaiting word from AT&T after passing a resolution last month that invites the company to enter into an agreement with the city for cable service provisions.

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