Cable industry and cities have vigorously opposed the legislation
By SUDEEP REDDY / The Dallas Morning News
In a major victory for the two largest phone companies, the Texas
House passed major legislation Sunday to create greater competition
for the cable television industry and ultimately transfer authority
for TV service from cities to state regulators.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The telecom legislation would:
Allow phone companies to receive statewide franchises for their new TV
services, bypassing city governments.
Deregulate basic phone rates, allowing phone companies to raise prices.
Let electric utilities deliver broadband Internet service over their
SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., armed with a
bevy of lobbyists, sought the controversial measure to ease their
entry into the TV battleground.
Both companies plan to roll out Internet-based digital TV services
this year, part of a heated battle with cable companies to offer the
so-called triple play of phone, TV and Internet service through a
The cable industry and city officials strongly fought the measure,
arguing it gives phone companies an unfair advantage, strips consumer
protections, and wrests control and revenue from cities.
The legislation allows the phone giants to receive statewide
franchises for their services instead of going through lengthy
negotiations with individual cities, as the cable industry has had to
do for decades.
"Consumers should have another choice if they're unhappy with their
existing providers," said state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the
House's leading proponent of the measure. "This bill allows more
companies to provide more service to more consumers."
The House passed the bill 135-6 after a two-hour debate focused
largely on whether phone companies would discriminate by targeting the
most affluent customers.
Phone companies say an emerging technology shouldn't be forced to
follow the same rollout requirements as cable faces now.
The legislation passed the Senate 25-3 last week but requires approval
again by the upper house because of minor changes. Its passage could
hinge on the progress of school finance and tax legislation, the
primary purpose of the special session that ends Wednesday.
The telecommunications bill, one of the biggest business issues in
Austin this year, failed to clear the regular session that ended in
Gov. Rick Perry added the issue to the session's agenda last week.
The legislation also allows phone companies to raise rates in the
Once state regulators certify that adequate competition for phone
service exists, rates in smaller regions can be raised.
It also allows electric utilities to deliver broadband Internet
service over their power lines, a technology that's intended to bring
high-speed Internet access to rural areas.
In the video provisions, the bill allows phone companies to receive
statewide franchises for TV services within a month, instead of as
long as 18 months that they'd need at the city level.
Cities would maintain their existing franchises with cable operators,
with phone companies operating under the same franchise-fee structure
until the local cable franchises expire.
Ultimately, cities would yield control over cable service to state
regulators, which could receive complaints from customers but not take
action against the companies.
several lawmakers have objected to the Legislature's fast-track
handling of the phone measure while failing to make progress in
helping public education or lowering property taxes as promised.
Referring to the Senate bill's number, SB 21, Rep. Harold Dutton,
D-Houston, said the legislation gives SBC "special-interest rules."
"This bill is such a hand-over-fist giveaway that we really ought to
call it SBC 21," Mr. Dutton said.
Companies on both sides have sparred over rising rates of their
Phone companies cited rising cable prices over the years. The cable
industry warned of price increases for phone service, noting SBC's
higher prices for features such as caller ID and speed dialing after
Level playing field
"Consumers benefit when there is a level playing field," Time Warner
Cable-Austin president Tom Kinney, chairman of the Texas Cable &
Telecommunications Association, said Sunday. "This legislation gives
every economic and regulatory advantage to big phone companies."
Lawmakers cited an economist's projections that the bill would create
12,000 jobs in the state and spur $1.8 billion in annual investment and
Steve Banta, Verizon's Southwest region president, said the company
hoped to "soon bring a new option for consumers who have been held
captive by cable TV companies for too long."
SBC Texas president Jan Newton said Sunday that the House passage
"demonstrates that this issue continues to center around Texas
consumers and the need to provide them with more choices and
competitive prices in TV and entertainment."
Copyright 2005 The Dallas Morning News Co.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
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