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Markey Slams "Bipartisan" Franchise Bill

Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking Democrat on the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, does not see the just-released national franchise bill as any kind of bipartisan offering, as it was being touted by the majority Tuesday (Democrat Bobby Rush of Illinois co-sponsored the bill).

Markey said he was disappointed both in the resulting bill and the Republican leadership of the House Commerce Committee and Telecom Subcommittee. He said the bill would allow franchisees to cherry pick more affluent neighborhoods and could lead to higher cable rates, not lower.

An earlier version of the bill that did have support from Markey and senior Democrat John Dingell (D-Mich.), morphed into a more cable-friendly version last week with the excision of provisions that would have set universal pricing obligations on cable and kept it from gaining a national franchise until the competition had established a foothold.

In a statement released to B&C, Markey took aim at the bill:

“After several months of negotiations, I am disappointed that Energy and Commerce Commitee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) decided to walk away from agreements reached with Ranking Member John Dingell (D-MI) and myself on critical telecommunications policy issues in order to pursue their own separate legislation.

“The legislation they have proposed represents an extraordinary rejection of the competitive and universal service principles that have guided successful telecommunications policy for decades.  The proposed bill permits a national franchise for cable service, yet has no service area requirement for providing such service.

"By failing to include a build-out provision to ensure service area parity between a Bell company entering a franchise area and the incumbent cable operator, it allows a national franchisee to use public rights-of-way in a community but serve only select neighborhoods within the community.

“Moreover, the bill compounds the consumer risk when the omission of a service area requirement is considered in the context of an incumbent cable operator qualifying for a national franchise.  Under the proposal, an incumbent cable operator may similarly seek a national franchise after the phone company arrives in a franchise area, even if the phone company is serving just one household in the franchise area.

"The lack of a service area requirement at the national level then means that the incumbent cable operator no longer has to serve the entire franchise either.  In other words, the operator is free to skimp on service upgrades or withdraw service from any part of their historic service area within the affected community.

"The incumbent may also raise rates in areas of the community the phone company is not serving in order to cross-subsidize its offering in the part of town the phone company has chosen to serve.  This represents a grave consumer protection flaw in the bill.

“The ‘network neutrality’ section of the bill represents a body blow to the Internet community.  It removes FCC authority to establish any future rules needed to ensure that consumers and competitors can avail themselves of the Internet experience they enjoy today.

"U.S. global leadership in high technology stems directly from policies that ensured that telecommunications networks are open to all lawful uses and users. The Internet was enhanced by such policies and its open network architecture has provided low barriers to entry for web-based content, applications, and services.  These policies have driven innovation, economic growth, and job creation.

"The bill’s stunning reversal of these policies jeopardizes the successful policy of open networks and imperils the continuation of the Internet as an economic engine for the country and an unprecedented vehicle for our First Amendment freedoms. 

“This bill ought to embrace open networks, competition in all markets, and a broadband vision which benefits everyone in the country.  Instead, it does the opposite.  In short, it favors the communications Colossi at the expense of the public interest.  For those fighting for a broadband vision for America which is inclusive, innovative, and openly competitive, this bill represents a giant step backwards.”