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Grass Valley joins cable TV fight

Facing the threat of losing local control over television access, Grass Valley City Council members voted late Tuesday to join Nevada County and other California local governments in opposing state and federal telecommunications bills.

A bill in Sacramento, known as AB2987, would create a state-issued cable television franchise, eliminating the ability of the city or county to negotiate with local cable TV companies, assure local access and income from franchise fees.

The state bill also could threaten video services to libraries and schools, and could lead to the loss of cable service in the rural areas of the county.



Another bill in Congress, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, would exempt telephone and cable companies from the need to obtain municipal franchises.

Local negotiations with the Sacramento-based cable TV provider Comcast have stalled as a result of the two bills. As a result, the future of NCTV Channel 11, the county’s only channel for public access, has become precarious.




“This (state) bill allows the phone company to dig up your streets and roads,” Tony Cardenas, a representative of the League of California Cities, told council members. “They’ll tell you, ‘We’re just updating our current infrastructure,’ but they’re providing video services.”

Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez introduced the bill to create competition, he has said. Supporters have said it would allow the expansion of Internet protocol video television, or IPTV, as companies could negotiate with the state instead of local governments.

“From the city’s perspective, it’s a terrible bill. It impacts everything: your franchise fees, your local control, your communications to citizens,” Cardenas said.

“Comcast would basically go away?” Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout asked.

“That’s right, and you’d deal with your state instead of your city,” Cardenas replied. “The private sector would go to the state and ask for the money.”

City administrator Gene Haroldsen said the bill creates “an unlevel playing field, because one company is coming in under an existing franchise agreement with the city, and other flies into it without all the agreements. They get to cherry-pick the areas they get to serve.”

The bills are being supported by large telephone companies, including AT&T and Verizon, that want to move into the new IPTV market. They would have to negotiate with thousands of smaller governments to do that under current legislation.

According to the League of California Cities Web site (www.cacities.org), the companies have argued that their service is different from cable, and so they do not come under the existing regulatory structure for cable television.

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To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail trinak@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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