By Sanford Nowlin Express-News Business Writer
The Texas House of Representatives voted 135-6 Sunday to pass a
controversial bill that would make it easier for the state's biggest
phone companies to offer pay television service.
Supporters of the measure -- which the Senate approved with minor
differences Wednesday -- said it would create jobs and investment by
letting SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. each
negotiate a single franchise with the state to offer video.
Under current rules, the companies must negotiate agreements with each
city they plan to serve -- just as their cable competitors did. But
San Antonio-based SBC and New York-based Verizon have argued that
reaching individual agreements would slow their rollouts.
"(With passage of the bill), we're going to see competition increase
year after year," said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who championed
the measure. "It will be kind of like what happened with local service
and long distance."
But cable carriers hotly opposed the measure, as did some cities. They
said it would give the phone giants an unfair advantage, let them
bypass low-income neighborhoods, and strip money from city coffers.
"This bill is such a giveaway, we should be calling it SBC 21,"
Houston Democrat Rep. Harold Dutton said, playing on the name of the
bill, SB 21.
The measure also allows SBC and other dominant phone companies to
increase prices for add-on phone service in large markets like San
Antonio and in smaller ones where they can show they face competition.
Under the bill, basic phone rates would remain frozen until the 2007
SBC and Verizon lobbied vigorously for the new franchise rules. Each
is spending billions to break into the video business as cable
carriers chip away at their phone markets.
If the bill passes, Texas will be the first state to simplify its
video franchising rules to make it easier for SBC and Verizon to roll
out video. The Federal Communications Commission also is expected to
weigh in on the matter.
Lawmakers debated a similar measure during the regular legislative
session, but it died when the House and Senate couldn't iron out major
Observers said the new bill also could die if lawmakers can't complete
work on new school finance rules. School funding is the main focus of the
30-day special legislative session that ends Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Friday said the Senate won't act on any
other bills until it can consider school finance changes. The Senate
would need to approve alterations made to the bill in the House before
it can be signed into law.
Portions Copyright 2005 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new
*** FAIR USE NOTICE. This message contains copyrighted material the
use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright
owner. This Internet discussion group is making it available without
profit to group members who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information in their efforts to advance the
understanding of literary, educational, political, and economic
issues, for non-profit research and educational purposes only. I
believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material
as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish
to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go
beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright
owner, in this instance, San Antonio Express-News.
For more information go to: