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Martin Gives Bells Another Boost

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has given notice to cities not to throw up barriers to easing telco entry into the video space.

Rolling out broadband and ramping up competition to cable are priorities for the FCC. Martin, who has already cleared away mandatory access regs on telco-delivered internet service, gave the Bells another boost in a written response to USA Today Monday in which he suggested he might invoke a provision of the 1992 Cable Act preventing local franchising authorities from "unreasonably refus[ing] to award additional competitive licenses for video."

Martin confirmed to the paper that he was considering invoking the clause, saying: "Several weeks ago I asked the staff to explore what the commission can do to ensure that local authorities are not unreasonably refusing to award additional competitive licenses" for video, he said.

There are several initiatives on the local and federal level to make it easer for telcos to start cable-like video service by exempting them from having to seek deals with each city or town. Cities understandably don’t like losing control of the franchise process or the revenue potential it represents.

Texas just passed a law establishing statewide franchises, effectively exempting telcos like Verizon and SBC from having to seek town-by-town agreements.

At least two bills have been introduced in Congress to make it easier for telcos to launch video competition to cable, including one that would give cable its playing field.

The first, introduced by Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Gordon Smith, gives any phone company currently operating the right to add video without obtaining an additional franchise, though it would be subject to essentially the same franchising obligations as the cable system in the market it is entering.

More sweeping and controversial legislation was introduced by Sen. John Ensign. It would eliminate the need for cable, a telephone company, or any other pay-TV provider to obtain local or state franchises.

Existing cable franchises also would be eliminated under his bill, which Ensign said is designed to "update the nation’s telecommunications laws and increase choices for consumers."