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FCC rules speed telco video

The Federal Communications Commission today issued new rules designed to speed up the local video franchising process. The rules set a 90-day limit on the local government’s decision and prohibit extraordinary requests for deployment of hardware or for tying in of unrelated requests.

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Not surprisingly, the major telecom players applauded the FCC action.

“The Commission’s order is a critical step forward in bringing consumers greater choices, exciting new services and vibrant video competition,” said Walter McCormick, president and CEO of USTelecom, the trade and lobbying group for incumbent service providers. “Across the country, large and small telecom service providers are spending billions of dollars investing in new infrastructure to deliver high-speed Internet and innovative video services to their communities. We commend Chairman Martin’s steadfast leadership to help spur broadband deployment across the country and appreciate the Commission’s hard work on this important issue.”

The vote was three-to-two, along party lines.

“Telephone companies are investing billions of dollars to upgrade their networks to provide video,” said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in a prepared statement. “As new providers began actively seeking entry into video markets, we began to hear that some local authorities were making the process of getting franchises unreasonably difficult, despite clear statutory language. The record collected by the Commission in this proceeding cited instances where LFAs sat on applications for more than a year or required extraordinary in kind contributions such as the building of public swimming pools and recreation centers.”

Martin also cited rising cable rates, nearing $50 for basic service, as a reason to promote competition.

Nine states have passed statewide video franchise rules.

Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps said the rules failed to promote genuine broadband competition and said he favored a provision which would have retained local franchise authority rights to impose specific build-out requirements and public programming, known as “PEG.” Proponents of the new rules failed to prove that the local franchising process is “irretrievably broken” and needs to be replaced, Copps said.

He also bemoaned the lack of a national strategy for providing ubiquitous broadband access.

“Right now this nation is hobbled because it has no such strategy, no plan for the infrastructure build-out our people need to be productive and competitive citizens of the world,” Copps said in his statement. “The United States is ranked number twenty-one in the International Telecommunications Union’s Digital Opportunity Index. It is difficult to take much comfort from being twenty-first in the Twenty-first century. The kind of broadband strategy I am talking about demands a level of consensus and national buy-in by the many diverse interests and entities that would be responsible for implementing it.”

Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell said, however, that the new policy seeks to address both sides of the issue. “This order strikes a careful balance between establishing a de-regulatory national framework to clear unnecessary regulatory underbrush, while also preserving local control over local issues,” he said.

The new rules may also face a legal challenge, either from the cable industry or groups representing local governments.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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