Cablers still down on franchise reform

Act aims to help telcos become vid providers

Despite having won some major concessions, cablers are still unhappy with provisions of video franchise reform, which was subject of a House subcommittee hearing Thursday.

Shepherded primarily by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.), a bill drafted as part of updating the 1996 Telecommunications Act aims to help telephone companies become video providers. Cablers opposed an earlier version of the bill, which blocked them from securing a national franchise until telcos reached 15% market penetration and which also imposed pricing restrictions.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. successfully lobbied those parts out of the bill. But NTCA topper Kyle McSlarrow told the subcommittee he thought an update of existing local franchising regs would be more fair than granting telcos an immediate national franchise, as the bill does. Telcos would therefore not have to negotiate for local franchises, which cablers once had to do.

McSlarrow said this would put cablers, who’ve spent $100 billion on improving its pipelines, at a disadvantage.

“Although there is already vigorous competition in the video marketplace, the prospect of major new competitors with the resources of the Bell operating companies should be beneficial to consumers – as long as competition is governed by marketplace forces and is not artificially skewed by rules and regulations that give some competitors an unfair advantage over others,” McSlarrow testified.

Witnesses and lawmakers also clashed over the issue of Net neutrality, a general idea that no Internet service provider should charge fees for accessing certain content. Barton polled all eight witnesses for a definition of Net neutrality, and got eight different answers.

“I would like each of you to submit to me (later) in writing a definition,” Barton said.