Statewidecable bill passes House
By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — After nearly four months of negotiating, a proposal to provide statewide cable TV franchising passed the House on Monday and could be before the full Senate soon.
The legislation approved 93-2 would allow companies like AT&T Inc. to avoid having to seek hundreds of municipal permits to offer TV service. The companion version is waiting to be scheduled for the Senate floor.
It’s an amendment to a bill that fell apart last year because of disagreements among AT&T, the cable industry and local governments.
Earlier this month, lawmakers involved in compromise negotiations that began in January held a news conference to unveil the new proposal.
On Monday, lawmakers lined up to sign on to the House version.
“Every concern … last year is addressed in this legislation,” said co-sponsor Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta.
Republican Joe McCord of Maryville, also a co-sponsor, said the bipartisan effort shows that “if you keep working at something long enough, even the hard things can get resolved.”
Democrats John Litz of Morristown and Tommie Brown of Chattanooga were the only dissenting voters.
Litz said he voted against the legislation because his city has invested nearly $40 million to allow its utility to offer services outside of the area and he’s concerned the bill would be hurtful.
“We’re elected down here to look after our districts,” he said. “I need to protect my citizens of Morristown.”
One key component of the bill is a so-called “build-out” requirement that prevents companies from “cherry-picking” customers by choosing wealthy areas over low-income neighborhoods.
Companies have 3 1/2 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 5 percent franchise fee on gross receipts to the local municipality or county where they operate. Providers must also meet mandated customer service standards of the Federal Communications Commission.
“I think this is a good piece of legislation,” said Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. “If the people of Tennessee will have more choices in cable, then that’s a good thing.”
Read the full text of HB1421/SB1933 on the General Assembly’s Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us
Published in The Messenger 4.29.08