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Cities Weigh In Against Franchise Changes

"An order federalizing the franchising process cannot stand."

That was essentially the message from the Alliance for Community Media, which represents a number of localities -- including the cities of Los Angeles; Chicago; Boston; Tampa, Fla.; and Milwaukee and the New York villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck -- in their court challenge to Federal Communications Commissioin changes to video-franchise rules.

In a reply brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Thursday, the alliance argued that the FCC's decision was arbitrary and capricious and that the commission does not have the authority to regulate local franchising authorities, saying that the Cable Act gives that responsibility to state and local governments.

Back in December 2006, the commission's Republican majority approved an order that would make it easier for cable overbuilders and telcos to compete with cable for multichannel-video service. The FCC put a shot clock on local-franchise negotiations, limited build-out requirements and franchise conditions and capped public- and government-access channel investments.

The FCC indicated that it would extend the same franchise changes to incumbent cable operators, but chairman Kevin Martin pulled an item that would have done that off its September meeting agenda.

The FCC smoothed telcos' path to video franchises after a bill backed by Republican lawmakers to do much the same died in Congress over the network-neutrality issue. The FCC's rule changes were also the result of an ongoing inquiry into whether local franchising authorities were unreasonably denying franchises and thus slowing the rollout of competition to cable and broadband service.