DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor



TelCo TV Bill Passes Full Committee

April 29, 2006

On April 26 the video franchising bill that's been gestating in Congress for more than a year got one step closer to becoming law. Joe Barton's full House Energy and Commerce Committee passed that draft legislation by a margin of 42 to 12.

Barton declared the bill would "increase competition not only for cable services, but also unleash a race for who can supply the fastest, most-sophisticated broadband connections that will provide video, voice, and data services."

Its primary purpose is to open up cable TV services to national telephone companies. The draft legislation would facilitate the rapid roll-out of those services by establishing national franchises that could not be impeded at the whim of the thousands of local governments that now regulate cable TV.

The legislation will now be assigned a proper bill number and be sent to the full House of Representatives. The Senate will then be invited to pass the same version, but of course they will likely want to do some tinkering of their own.

Specifically, the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006" would:

  • Create a national approval process, known as a "franchise," for telephone carriers and cable providers that offer subscription television. By streamlining this system, more competitors will offer services that are similar to cable TV. The likely result will be lower prices and more choices for consumers.

  • Improve competition between VoIP Intenet-based telephone services and local telephone services.

  • Require cable and telephone companies to offer broadband services without requiring consumers take telephone, television or other services the provider offers.

  • Preserve municipalities' right to collect up to a six percent fee from pay-TV providers. Part of this fee will go towards ensuring local communities can continue to offer public, educational and governmental (PEG) stations.

  • Establish penalties of up to $500,000 for broadband providers that block lawful content. The Federal Communications Commission would have, for the first time, explicit power to go after companies that violate network neutrality principles.

  • Require Internet-based telephone services to offer 9-1-1 capabilities while ensuring Internet telephone providers have access to all necessary 9-1-1 infrastructure and technology. This will help ensure that VoIP service can be a safe and effective competitor to standard telephone service.

  • Allow localities to retain control of their rights-of-way and ensure local jurisdictions still receive the franchise fees they collected under the current system. Additionally, the FCC will be authorized to step in if a locality tries to unfairly use its rights-of-way authority to block new competitors from entering the local market.

  • Allow cities and towns to develop their own broadband networks.

  • Require broadband operators take additional steps to ensure their networks aren't used to transmit child pornography.

  • Strong anti-discrimination provisions that include fines of up to $500,000 a day and even revocation of franchises.