Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stay tuned on cable bill

A measure posing AT&T against local cable and telephone companies could come to light soon in a House committee, where it’s been stalled for more than a month. The House Telecommunications Committee met Tuesday morning but recessed to “the call of the chair,” allowing sponsor Rep. James Brosnahan, an Evergreen Park Democrat, to reconvene the committee as soon as the compromise language is ready to go. He said he hopes that would happen in the next two days.

Then again, the urgency of state budget negotiations between Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the top Democratic leaders could delay Brosnahan’s proposal into the fall veto session, says Gary Mack, lobbyist for the Cable Television and Communications Association that opposes the measure.

The proposal would basically allow such telephone companies as AT&T and Verizon to compete with cable providers that have enjoyed a monopoly in providing high-tech video services. AT&T wants to change the way video providers get authorization to build a video franchise using broadband, fiber optics and Internet protocol technology to supply those services. AT&T can do that right now, but it would have to do the same as cable companies and go through individual municipalities to get approval to provide the service. Brosnahan’s measure would allow providers to get a statewide video franchise through the Illinois Commerce Commission instead. But the original language in his measure limits the commission’s power to approving or denying applications to provide the service, so it stops short of giving the commission the ability to regulate what happens after that, says Jim Zolnierek of the commerce commission.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants the commission to have more regulatory power. Her office joins other opponents — cable providers, public access channels and consumer advocates — in arguing that the legislation opens the door for a deregulated industry and doesn’t adequately protect local control, public access channels or customer service standards.

Supporters say the proposal would boost competition and benefit consumers by giving them more choice. Stay tuned. A revised telecom bill could drop back into committee at any time.

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