US Phone Companies Face Cable Law Delays

03 May 2006

US telecoms companies face frustrating delays in their bid to offer video programming.

There are now two sets of legislation waiting to be reconciled and, as a result, it is thought unlikely that anything will pass into law this year.

The nation's biggest telcos, such as AT&T and Verizon Communications, have been pushing lawmakers to streamline the time-consuming process of getting franchises from thousands of local governments to offer video over new high-speed networks.

A narrow House of Representatives bill does answer the telcos' national franchise concerns, but its progress has been significantly slowed thanks to intervention by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens.

His new proposals fall short of phone companies' demands for a national franchise, but do require local authorities to act on requests within 30 days.

If they fail to do so a franchise will be granted automatically with strict guidelines on the fees and other terms.

The Stevens bill also attempts to alter the so-called universal fund, into which phone companies pay to ensure everyone gets telephone service, to also require that every telecoms service, broadband service or internet phone service provider pay into the fund.

It also places the hot issue of 'net neutrality', or concerns that phone and cable companies will discriminate against some internet sites or limit how consumers use the web, with the Federal Communications Commission.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff