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.

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