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Stevens Asked to Rethink National Franchise

City governments are urging Senate Commerce Committee Co-Chairman Ted Stevens to rethink his support for a national video franchise model that would make it easier for telephone companies to enter individual markets and compete with cable to deliver pay-TV service.

"Nationalizing franchising would limit the benefits of head-to-head video competition to a chosen few and would cause chaos in our streets across the country," wrote Donald J. Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, in a letter to Stevens and Sen. Daniel Inouye, the Commerce Committee's other co-chairman.

In addition, those governments don't want to lose the leverage local negotiations give them to impose franchise requirements tailored to their specific needs.

An identical letter was sent to the chairman and ranking Democrat of the House Commerce Committee, Reps. Joe Barton and John Dingell.

Stevens on June 6 told a gathering of communications lawyers that Congress should enact "a national solution" that would alleviate phone companies of the need to conduct lengthy negotiations with 30,000 separate local governments to rollout video over their new fiber networks.

Borut, however, insisted phone companies will face no delays if they commit to the same service requirements as cable operators, including mandates to serve poorer neighborhoods rather than focus on higher income areas. "Allegations that local permission is difficult to acquire are not accurate," he said. "The franchising process is open and quick for those companies that do not seek to use the process to cherry pick who they will serve or obtain a regulatory advantage over their competitors."

Borut added that local governments are willing to consider ways to streamline the existing franchising process.