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Okla. Telcos Don’t Need Video Franchises

Oklahoma telephone companies do not have to obtain separate municipal franchises to use the public rights-of-way to deliver video services, according to an opinion rendered by that state's attorney general.

The official, Drew Edmondson, issued the opinion May 3 in response to questions submitted to him by Rep. Dennis Adkins (R-Tulsa), chairman of the state House Energy & Utility Regulatory Committee. AT&T Inc. asked the lawmaker to seek clarification of state law.

Municipalities may dictate where plant is placed in the right-of-way, issuing permits and easements, but the state constitution and legislature govern the right of the telephone companies to operate throughout the state, according to the attorney general. So a phone company already operating in the state does not need a separate cable franchise, he wrote.

Officials of Cox Communications Inc. -- the state's largest cable operator, with 38 franchises -- said they are reviewing the decision to determine how the opinion may impact their Oklahoma business. Cox provides video, Internet and phone services in its systems there and pays an estimated $14 million in local franchise fees annually to local governments.

"To the extent that this opinion serves as a catalyst for a re-examination of the regulatory burdens imposed on video services generally and promotes competition in a fair and equitable manner, we are all for it," said Tim Tippit, the MSO’s vice president for government and public affairs, in a prepared statement.