Senate sponsor pulls the plug on cable TV bill

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

From staff and wire reports

Facing stiff opposition, the sponsoring senator has pulled the plug on legislation that would have made it easier for telecommunications companies to compete against cable television.

"Stick a fork in it -- it's done," Sen. John Griesheimer said this week after continued opposition from some fellow Republicans forced him to lay aside his legislation. He said he has no plans to bring the bill up again this year.

The bill, backed by AT&T Corp., would have made it easier for the state's largest local telephone company -- and for other high-speed Internet providers -- to compete against cable TV companies by offering an Internet-based television service.

Instead of having to strike deals with each local government that has a cable franchise, the bill would have allowed television newcomers such as AT&T to instead get a state-issued franchise permitting them to enter multiple markets.

But cable companies and some local governments, which receive about $35 million annually in franchise fees from cable operators, complained the bill would have given a market edge to AT&T. Newcomers would not have had to offer TV service to the entire area covered by a cable provider in order to begin competing against them.

An attempt at a compromise only raised the ire of Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who said it would lead to broken contracts and lawsuits and leave cities without any television providers who were required to extend service to all residents.

An AT&T spokesman said the company would continue talking to legislators to try to pass the measure before the session ends May 12.

Marsha Haskell, AT&T's regional director of external affairs in Cape Girardeau, said it was a sad day for consumers.

"I will never give up trying to bring new technologies, investments, jobs and choice in video services to consumers in Southeast Missouri," Haskell said.

Business editor Scott Moyers contributed to this report.

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