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.

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