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FCC releases rules for telco TV relief


Telephone companies rejoiced on Monday as federal regulators released the full text of rules adopted last December designed to ease those firms' efforts to enter the TV market.

The Federal Communications Commission's order (PDF) is aimed at preventing municipalities from imposing "unreasonable" barriers when they negotiate video franchises with telephone companies. Originally adopted by a 3-2 vote, the commission's two Democrats, joined by some consumer groups and Democrats in Congress, have objected to the rules' approach and questioned their necessity.

Among other things, the rules would require local governments to approve franchise agreements within six months for completely new entrants and within 90 days for companies with existing access to city facilities. They also seek to limit franchise fees.

In addition, the bill would prohibit so-called "build-out" requirements if they obligate new market entrants to serve all of a particular area within an "unreasonable" time frame or on a scale not expected of existing companies serving the area. That provision has drawn concern from some consumer advocacy groups, which argue that relaxing those requirements could prevent residents of low-income and low-density areas from receiving service.

Telephone companies have been lobbying for years to obtain federal standards that trump various state and local franchising procedures, which they argue often takes too long and involves unreasonable demands.

The FCC's order says the agency has "tentatively concluded" it would apply the relief to existing cable TV operators when it comes time for them to renew their franchise agreements, but the cable industry has argued that amounts to an unfair advantage for phone companies. A spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which lobbies for the cable industry, said on Monday that the group was still weighing the order's text and had not yet decided whether to challenge it.

The rules are set to take effect 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register. It was not immediately clear on Monday when that publication would occur.

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