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Telco Video Bill Introduced

A pair of Democratic Senators have introduced a bill that would let telephone companies start delivering video over their networks without having to seek franchise agreements similar to those cable is required to strike.

The bill in essence would hold the telcos to the same terms as the existing cable agreements or, as cable might put it, piggyback on the cable industry's efforts in negotiating the deals in the first place.

Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Senator Jay Rockefeller, in what they say is an effort to bring price competition to the video programming market, Thursday introduced the Video Choice Act of 2005.

The bill would essentially let telcos launch cable-like service to compete with local cable MSOs, subject to similar obligations including fees to feed local government coffers, public service obligations, and provisions against red-lining (bypassing poorer communities where return on investment may be less).

"Cable companies control nearly 70% of the multi-channel video market and are not subject to effective price competition for video services," the pair said in announcing the bill.  "In places where there is competition for cable services, consumers have benefited."

Telcos have been petitioning Congress to come up with a national franchising model that wouldn't require it to seek hundreds or thousands of individual franchises. Cable companies argue that telcos shouldn't get a fast track to video competition, and that whatever changes are made should apply to both cable and telcos equally."