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Texas TV bill stalls

But legislature may get another shot at bill meant to let phone companies get statewide franchise to offer TV service.

A controversial television service bill in Texas died Wednesday--but may come alive again in the very near future.

The bill, which would have hastened the entry of telephone companies into the TV market, stalled with the closure of an emergency session of the state legislature. Supporters are hopeful that the measure will pass in a second special session that began Thursday.

The special 30-day session, which ended at midnight Wednesday, had been called primarily to resolve school finance and property tax reform.

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry called a new 30-day session. The franchise bill, which is worded the same in both the House and Senate versions, should come to the floor in both chambers early next week, state legislators said.

During the first special session, the Senate passed the bill, which would grant statewide franchises to phone companies. The House also passed it. But because there had been minor changes, it needed to be approved once again by the Senate.

The Texas franchise law is being closely watched by other states, including New Jersey and California, that are considering similar changes to their communications laws. The battle over whether phone companies should be required to get local franchises to offer TV is critical for SBC Communications and Verizon Communications as they move forward with their plans to deliver television service to consumers later this year. Obtaining a statewide franchise would greatly speed up the deployment of new service.

Verizon, which plans to begin offering television service to customers of its new fiber-to-the-home network later this year, has slowly been acquiring local franchise agreements. The latest was granted this week in Herndon, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The company also has franchises in Texas, California and Florida.

"Once approved, the legislation would plant a sturdy stake in the ground for us to build momentum in other states where Verizon plans to compete head-to-head with existing cable providers," the company said in a statement. "We encourage the Texas legislature to establish itself as a national leader on telecommunications issues and help accelerate the day when new video providers will offer a vibrant choice for cable services."

Cable companies argue that such laws granting blanket franchises give telephone companies an unfair advantage, because cable companies are expected to negotiate contracts with each individual town or city.