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Senate Bill Addresses Franchise Reform, Retransmission

May 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, on Monday introduced legislation that would make it easier for phone companies to roll out pay-TV services-and would ensure that the phone companies have access to cable’s regional sports networks.

Sen. Stevens’ measure-like legislation that was recently approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee-would give phone companies a boost by allowing them to avoid the same local franchising approvals that cable TV operators had to meet when creating the nation’s existing systems.

But the measure, titled the “Communications, Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006,” would allow cable TV operators to switch from their local to the new national franchising process when their current local franchising agreements expire-or when a phone company receives approval to launch TV services in their areas under a national franchise.

Under existing law, cable TV operators are required to make their satellite-delivered programming networks available to satellite TV and other competitors.

But because the law doesn’t require the cable TV industry to provide competitors with access to programming distributed terrestrially, cable operators have been making increasing use of terrestrial distribution to protect the exclusivity of their regional sports networks.

Sen. Stevens’ legislation would close the so-called terrestrial distribution loophole “so that multi-channel video programming distributors cannot enter into exclusive deals with program vendors for sporting events,” according to a summary of the bill provided by the senator’s office.

Another controversial provision in the bill would allow cable TV operators to retransmit the digital must-carry signals of broadcasters in analog “to ensure continued viewing of over-the-air signals for cable subscribers with analog TV,” according to the bill summary.

Yet another provision would require the Federal Communications Commission to establish rules barring video service providers from distributing child pornography.

In a statement, Sen. Stevens said he planned to hold two public hearings on the measure and that the Senate Commerce Committee would vote on the bill after the Memorial Day recess.