RealTime IT News

Bells Win Video Vote

Verizon and SBC finally got their way in Texas on Wednesday morning. After months of behind-the-scenes wrangling, the state legislature approved a bill to simplify video franchising.

The legislation is expected to accelerate the TV-over-fiber rollouts in Texas by allowing the Baby Bells to petition the public utilities commission for a statewide video franchise license, rather than negotiate deals with each community, a process that can take between six and 18 months.

Cable companies, which must still negotiate individual deals with local municipalities, opposed the measure.

The vote was welcome news for the industry advocacy group Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council, which on Tuesday petitioned the U.S. Congress to streamline the video franchising process.

In a letter to lawmakers, the group warned that unless laws are changed to embrace next-generation broadband networks such as FTTH, the United States will lose its position as a global technology leader.

"Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and much of Europe already lead the United States in FTTH deployments, with a number of other nations now accelerating their own FTTH efforts," the letter states. "A 100 megabit-per-second connection capable of offering a converged package of voice, video and very high-speed bi-directional data is now common in Japan, Korea and Hong Kong and will soon be available in a number of other countries."

In the United States, though, broadband rates over cable modems and DSL are considerably slower.

"We cannot afford to fall behind in next-generation broadband as we have in current generation broadband, where the International Telecommunications Union now ranks us 16th globally in terms of penetration," the group said.

FTTH, the group contends, offers traditional telephone companies, along with municipalities, real estate developers, rural phone companies and others, to enter the video market to compete with traditional cable TV and satellite companies.

"This is a very positive development, as it will provide competition, create new services, and offer lower prices for the consumer," the letter states. "But, there are many thousands of municipal franchising agencies in the United States, and currently new entrants typically must negotiate with each of them on a case-by-case basis to obtain a cable television franchise."

The group adds, "If the franchising process is not streamlined at the federal level, it will take far too long for the new entrants to bring next generation broadband networks to market. "

Verizon and SBC have been trying to change the Texas law since the beginning of the year. The original legislation failed but lawmakers gathered in Austin for a special session finally approved the measure.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to sign the legislation.