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Telco-Friendly Bill Passes Texas House

The Texas House of Representatives Sunday passed a bill paving the way for SBC and Verizon to apply for statewide franchises to deliver statewide cable-like video franchises.

The bill, similar to one that passed in the Texas Senate last week, would relieve the Bells from having to seek municipal franchises from each locality (it would also allow power companies to offer broadband over powerlines).

The phone companies have argued that a statewide, and preferably a nationwide, franchising model will advance the government’s interest in boosting competition to cable.

The cable industry doesn’t see it that way, arguing that relieving the telcos of the regulatory hoops cable has had to jump through is unfair, and that whatever regulatory breaks the phone companies are given should apply to cable as well.

Cities understandably don’t like losing control of the franchise process and the potential of losing revenues they would otherwise collect from local franchise agreements.

The House and Senate versions of the bill must now be reconciled, but the differences are said to be minor. A bigger issue is whether the bill can get a vote before the special session ends Wednesday. An education bill stands in the way, and will be dealt with first, if either makes it to a vote, in the limited time remaining.

"House passage of the Senate Bill in Texas demonstrates that legislators want to provide consumers with better choices and prices in a TV market dominated by cable companies," said SBC spokesman Michael Balmoris. "Consumers deserve the best that new competitors and new technology can bring to TV and entertainment."