RealTime IT News

Bells' TV Bill Gets New Life

A bill that would accelerate SBC and Verizon rollouts of TV-over-fiber service has new life in the Texas Legislature.

The telecom carriers thought the measure was dead when lawmakers adjourned May 31. But Gov. Rick Perry recalled legislators to address school financing and property tax issues.

In Austin, the Senate this week passed telecom legislation that includes language sought by SBC and Verizon. The bill would allow them to apply for a statewide video franchise license rather than negotiate deals with each community, a process that can take between six and 18 months.

The bill, which is opposed by municipalities and cable companies, must still pass the House and be signed by the governor before the special session ends next week.

And lawmakers have said they intend to hammer out school funding and Property-tax legislation before taking up the telecom bill or any other measures.

Verizon spokesman Bob Elek said the Senate's vote is a positive sign, but it's too soon to know what the final version will look like.

"We expect to know more this weekend, likely on Sunday," Elek told internetnews.com. "Hopefully, other issues will not derail the progress that has been made -- but ultimately, we won't know until the dust settles."

Industry-watchers believe Senate passage of the bill bodes well for SBC and Verizon.

"The pro-Bell bill has a decent chance of being enacted in Texas, and if it were, it would be the first Bell victory in the emerging franchise wars," analysts at Legg Mason wrote in a research note yesterday.

In addition to efforts in Texas and other states, the Baby Bells will be on Capitol Hill pushing video-over-fiber as part of a larger rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The Bells fiber initiatives are aimed at helping them better compete with cable companies. The telecoms are spending billions to install fiber networks that deliver voice, broadband and TV services. Currently, major telecoms must partner, and share revenue, with satellite television providers to offer a "triple-play" residential bundle.

But whatever happens -- or doesn't happen -- in Texas and Washington, D.C., the Bells have said they'll continue to move ahead with fiber plans.

Verizon last week signed a programming and distribution agreement with Turner Broadcasting System as it prepares to ratchet up pressure on its cable and satellite competitors.

The deal will make CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies available through Verizon fiber service.