Senate sends statewide cable permitting bill to governor - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Senate sends statewide cable permitting bill to governor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Senate has unanimously approved a proposal to create statewide TV cable franchising and has sent the bill to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

The Senate approved the House version of the bill on a 29-0 vote with little debate on Thursday. The measure pushed by AT&T Inc. is the result of two years of negotiations with the cable industry and local governments.

"In my opinion this bill with change the way the citizens of our state communicate from this point forward because of the technology that will be coming into our state," said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro and a main sponsor of the bill.

Local governments had worried about losing control over setting cable rules and the fees gotten from those permits. Cable companies had argued that it was unfair AT&T circumvent the existing rules to be able to offer their services statewide.

Both sides of the issue poured millions of dollars into lobbying and advertising campaigns. The compromise was hammered out in private meetings at the behest of House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

"I know there's been a lot of commercials run on TV ... but I think this will be a great bill to bring telecommunications across Tennessee," said Senate Commerce Chairman Steve Southerland, R-Morristown.

A spokeswoman said Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who has mostly stayed out of the debate over the proposal, plans to sign the bill into law.

The bill includes a build-out requirement that seeks to prevent companies from only serving the wealthiest areas. Companies would have 3 1/2 years to make service available to at least 30 percent of the households in their franchise area - and 25 percent of those have to be low-income.

Providers that don't meet the requirements face stiff fines.

The proposal would also require AT&T and other new providers to pay a 5 percent franchise fee on gross receipts to the local municipality or county where they operate.


(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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