TV legislation still must be fine-tuned |

TV legislation still must be fine-tuned

Assembly Bill 2987, which takes away the ability of cities and counties to negotiate franchise agreements with television providers, is still a work in progress, according to Rick Keene, R-Chico.

That’s a good thing since the city of Grass Valley, Nevada County and NCTV representatives have raised legitimate concerns about legislation that removes their representatives from the table when new franchise agreements are negotiated.

The California League of Cities also opposes the legislation in its present form.

The legislation is being proposed on behalf of telecommunications giants like AT&T and Verizon. These companies claim that the current system of negotiating franchise agreements with around 400 local governments makes it nearly impossible to roll out new technologies that other countries have enjoyed for years or to provide customers in this state with the latest innovations.

Lawmakers from both parties say that having the state negotiate the franchise agreements will enable more companies to jump into the market and offer telephone, broadband and television programming in California. Now, they point out, the only real choices are cable or satellite services.

Cable companies like Comcast currently negotiate franchise agreements with individual cities and counties, which means it’s our local officials who are arguing for additional funding for NCTV, which receives $30,000 a year under the current agreement.

The counties and cities in the state now receive 5 percent of gross revenues as part of the franchise agreements. The money for public access stations like NCTV is negotiated separately.

Comcast is now in protracted negotiations with Nevada County and Nevada City as it renews its franchise agreements. If this legislation passes, the state would negotiate the franchise agreement with Comcast rather than the county and Nevada City.

The franchise agreement in Grass Valley expires in 2008.

Nonetheless, the Grass Valley City Council and the Nevada County Board of Supervisors have announced their opposition to this bill.

In addition to centralizing the franchise authority for phone and cable companies, the legislation also requires the state to handle complaints about service. That should not reassure anyone who has tried to deal with the lethargic and often seemingly apathetic state bureaucracy.

Many concerns have been raised locally about this legislation.

Can cities and counties retain their local control of rights-of-way in their jurisdictions when the telecommunications companies start putting down fiber optic cables? Can we count on the state to negotiate the best possible deal for NCTV and other community access stations? Will the legislation allow the telecommunications companies to cherry-pick their customers? Will the telecommunications companies be permitted to only offer expensive bundled services? Will a day come when the state decides to claim those franchise fees in another effort to balance the budget?

Keene said he is acutely aware of these concerns. The bill, which was approved by the Utilities and Commerce committee of which Keene is a member, is still being fine-tuned, according to the lawmaker.

He said Wednesday that he’s committed to addressing the concerns raised by his constituents in western Nevada County and urges voters to contact him while lawmakers continue to work on the legislation.

Once those concerns are addressed in the final legislation, and Keene says they will be, the assemblyman claims Californians can expect to see more competition, better technology and lower prices.

We hope he is right on all counts.

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