TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Congress Weighing Rules for Cable Franchises

Congress Weighing Rules for Cable Franchises

Janice Morse (
Sun, 4 Sep 2005 18:08:56 -0500

By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

Payments to cities for local programs may end.

The days may be numbered for cable access channels that allow people
to tune into local government meetings, church sermons, even high
school football games.

Congress is considering three bills that would change federal
telecommunications laws. That could prompt cable operators to unplug
community channels, cable-access advocates say.

"This is a 'life-or-death' thing for anybody who wants local voices to
still remain in media," says Tom Bishop, head of Media Bridges

The three bills seek to create new federal standards for cable
franchises. Supporters say the reforms would help consumers by making
the field more competitive and eliminating red tape in the cable
industry. Critics warn that the proposals also could slash franchise
fees that cable companies pay to local governments, which paid for
community access channels and other services.

"People have come to rely on local programming that they can't get
anywhere else," said Patricia Stern, executive director of the
Intercommunity Cable Regulatory Commission in Sharonville. It produces
cable shows for 30 local communities.

"None of the networks will cover the Loveland City Council meetings
gavel-to-gavel, or the Hamilton County Commissioner meetings, or
Friday night high school football games."

Stern and other cable-access advocates are urging lawmakers and
citizens to oppose the bills.

The Alliance for Community Media, a national group representing more
than 1,000 public-access TV centers, says national TV/video
franchising would take away local officials' control over companies
installing service lines along roads.

The proposed legislation would require cable companies to repay
communities for damage caused by installing cable lines. But it would
eliminate or reduce "rent" for using public rights-of-way.

In Cincinnati, those fees total $3.2 million a year, including a
$700,000 community service fee that pays for local-access programming,
officials said.

The legislative battle is occurring because state and federal
lawmakers are facing increasing pressure from telecom lobbyists.

Two of the bills, in the Senate and House, aim to help telephone
companies break into the TV business. Another Senate bill would
eliminate local governments' franchise agreements with video/TV

That bill arose from "a desire to update the telecom laws and not have
new technology stifled by a patchwork of laws across the country,"
said Jack Finn, spokesman for the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Ensign,

Finn contends the proposal would not have the devastating effects that
cable-access advocates fear.

But Tim Broering, executive director for the Telecommunications Board
of Northern Kentucky said, "This legislation would outlaw all cable
franchises across the country. This would be the federal government
telling local governments how to manage their right-of-ways."

Derrick Blassingame, 19, of Avondale, produces twice-monthly
Cincinnati cable-access political show called "Real Talk Live." His
show may not be well-known, but his audience pays close
attention. Each telecast attracts 50 to 300 e-mailed comments, he

He says the proposed laws would cut off access to people like him.

Cable access channels provide more than 20,000 hours of local TV shows
each week . That's more than all the programming produced by NBC, CBS,
ABC, FOX and PBS combined, the Alliance says.

Still, it's unclear how many people watch community access shows.

But Warren County Administrator Dave Gully said citizens' comments
lead him to believe that cable-access telecasts of local governments'
meetings attract substantial viewership.


Copyright 2005, The Enquirer

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