Texas Slows Bells’ TV Plans

In a blow to SBC and Verizon , Texas
lawmakers this weekend adjourned without passing a bill designed to
accelerate TV-over-fiber rollouts.

The measure would have allowed 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.

Versions of the bill passed the House and Senate; however lawmakers were
unable to agree on the final language during a conference committee
meeting.

The bill, which sparked heated debate in the Lone Star State, was opposed by
cable companies, who have had to negotiate franchises with towns and
cities, as well as city leaders, who were concerned about losing control over the process.

“We’re disappointed that the shot clock ran out and prevented the House and
Senate from reaching a compromise,” Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman, told
internetnews.com. “It’s not for a lack of time and attention.”

A spokeswoman for SBC, which is based in San Antonio, Texas, was not
immediately available for comment.

Verizon will continue pursuing agreements with cities. Earlier this month,
Temple Terrace, Fla., became the sixth community to award a video franchise
to Verizon. The others are Keller, Wylie, Sachse and Westlake, Texas, as well as
Beuamont, Calif. Under those deals, the cities will receive 5 percent of
revenue from Verizon’s TV offering, which is about on par with cable deals, Kula
said.

The New York carrier will also be active on the lobbying front. Although
Virginia’s Legislature was unable to pass a similar bill this session,
there are some efforts in New Jersey and California that touch on video
offerings, Kula said.

In addition, the Baby Bells will be on Capitol Hill, pushing video-over-fiber
as part of a larger rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. As unlikely
as it sounds, Congress could make progress on the issue before the Texas
Legislature, which only meets every two years.

The Bells’ fiber push is aimed at better competing 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 on the legislative front, Verizon’s Kula said the
company won’t let the regulatory process dissuade it from pushing ahead on
fiber.

“This slows down competition, but doesn’t completely thwart it,” Kula said.

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