Proposed Legislation on Beacon Hill Threatens Local Cable Licensing

Special interest legislation has been filed on Beacon Hill on behalf of Verizon. Senate Bill No. 1687, An Act Promoting Consumer Choice and Competition for Cable Service, seeks to change the way that cable companies negotiate with local communities in order to obtain a license to operate.

Most municipalities, elected officials, and consumers want competition. Under the current system of local franchising, in place in the Commonwealth for over 30 years, there is a reasonable time period for negotiation between municipalities and cable companies seeking lengthy licenses to use the public rights of way. The primary purposes of this bill are to unreasonably shorten the period of negotiation, for the benefit of Verizon and to the detriment of consumers and local government, and to place a cap on equipment and facility payments to municipalities. The bill would reduce the complex local negotiation process to a mere 90 days, which would essentially make meaningful negotiations impossible.

Verizon has already successfully negotiated and signed over 110 franchises in the Commonwealth through the existing procedures. A thoughtful and inclusionary local franchising process ensures a cable system that is responsive to the particular needs and interests of each municipality and rightfully emphasizes local control over the public rights of way. This critical negotiation between a municipality and the service provider is not a mere inconvenience, it is a respectful process in which elected officials, town administrators and concerned residents should be heard.

Verizon’s proposed bill is harmful to cities and towns. It includes a shot clock provision where communities must act upon a new cable television license as follows:

A. Within 10 DAYS of receipt of an application, a city or town shall begin negotiations with the carrier, regardless of the city or town’s ability to identify its basic negotiations needs in such a short period of time.
B. Within 90 DAYS of receipt of an application, a city or town shall hold a public hearing on the financial, technical, and other qualifications to operate a cable television system.
C. Within FIVE DAYS of the public hearing, the city or town shall either approve or deny the application. If approved, a final license document must be issued within those five days! Issuing a final license document within five days of a hearing is obviously unfair and unreasonable.

This is a bad bill, written BY AND FOR one company without adequately balancing the needs of cities and towns in the Commonwealth. The current licensing law protects the needs of cities and towns to enter into thoughtful and meaningful negotiations.

What YOU can do:
1. Come with other CCTV members and staff to the State House to show your opposition to this bill. Meet at CCTV on Wednesday, May 18 at 9 AM to travel by Red Line to the State House, or meet us in Room A-1 at 10AM. You need not testify - just showing up will help to make the point that citizens of the Commonwealth do not want this legislation.

2. Send an email or letter to the senators and representatives on the Joint Telecommunications Committee - a list of their names and addresses and a sample letter is attached.

3. Make sure that your state representatives and senators, and City Councilors, know that you want them to oppose this legislation - send them copies of your letters and emails - their addresses are also attached.

4. Please send copies of any correspondence to CCTV, 675 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139. info@cctvcambridge.org

[photo of the Massachusetts State House by Kjetil Ree, available under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License]