Verizon, having failed to change cable franchising in Congress, is now pushing state legislation that would remove local control over the public rights of way and threaten funding for Public, Educational, and Governmental access organizations.
The bill, proposed by Senator Panagiotakis of Lowell, Representative James Vallee of Franklin and Harold Naughton, Jr. of Clinton, was actually WRITTEN by Verizon, for its own benefit. Verizon’s claim is that the current franchising rules are too lengthy and burdensome, hindering the company’s ability to roll out broadband services.
The bill, entitled “An Act Promoting Consumer Choice and Competition for Cable Service,” calls for a FIFTEEN-DAY period for the state to approve an application from a new cable company – without any review of its financial or technical qualifications to build and operate a cable system, and without any public process.
Most municipalities, elected officials, and consumers want competition. Under the current system of local franchising, in place in the Commonwealth for over 30 years, competition is permitted and significant profit margins for cable companies have been realized. Under the existing law, all cable licenses are non-exclusive and Verizon has already successfully negotiated and signed OVER 40 franchises in the Commonwealth through the existing procedures. If Verizon would substantially match the contractual obligations of incumbent cable providers, most communities would gladly expedite the grant of a competitive license. In many cases, it has been Verizon that has been unable to build out cable systems to keep pace with towns and cities wanting to accelerate the licensing process. Our objection to this bill is that local franchising ensures local control over the public rights of way, as well as cable systems that are responsive to the particular needs and interests of each municipality. This critical negotiation between a municipality and the service provider will be lost if this bill is adopted.
This is a bad bill, written BY AND FOR one company without adequately balancing the needs of cities, towns and community access centers in the Commonwealth.
Next week, we will publish a guide to HOW TO TAKE ACTION on this bill. In the meantime, mark your calendar for a public hearing on May 15 (THIS WAS CHANGED TO JUNE 5th) at the State House. Make sure that your voice is heard and that you are counted!