Local Officials are morons: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_467234.html
"By Kim Leonard
Wednesday, August 23, 2006Local government officials worry that their residents' cable TV service will suffer if Verizon and other providers are allowed to bypass individual negotiations with them and apply for one statewide franchise.
Five local officials testified before the state House Consumer Affairs Committee on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, detailing concerns about legislation that telecommunications giant Verizon has been advocating as a quicker way to bring its state-of-the-art FiOS TV service to Pennsylvania.
"The current system of using local franchising agreements is a documented success," Helen Jackson, a New Beaver councilwoman and president of the state Association of Councils of Governments, testified during the hearing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
Cable companies with longstanding franchises argued against the bill, while telecommunications firms and consumer agencies said a streamlined franchising process would benefit customers by ushering in myriad TV choices and lower prices.Jackson and and Cranberry Supervisor Richard Hadley, Crescent Commissioner David Hays, Washington, Pa., Mayor Ken Westcott and Peters Assistant Manager Paul Lauer contend that the Corporation Bureau of Pennsylvania's Department of State -- which would administer the statewide franchise -- couldn't possibly keep tabs on cable providers as well as local officials have done for more than 20 years.That means intervening when service calls aren't answered promptly, they say. Controlling and maintaining the rights of way where cables run. Making sure that no-cost service is provided to libraries, schools and community centers, that public, educational and government channels stay on the air and that companies work to provide service to all neighborhoods.State Rep. Raymond Bunt Jr., a prime sponsor of the House bill and a committee member, disputed their arguments, saying the bill protects all the key points of local control while allowing TV competition that will reduce consumers' bills. "Have you read it?" he asked.
Verizon, as well as dominant cable provider Comcast and any other company that secures a statewide agreement, still would pay communities franchise fees of up to 5 percent of gross revenues, as federal law dictates, said Bunt, R-Montgomery County.
Cranberry's 4 percent fee brings in about $170,000 a year from Comcast, money used to maintain the pathways the company's lines use, Hadley said. Still, Bunt pointed out that constituents, not the companies, actually foot the franchise revenues.
Verizon's ongoing construction of a fiber-optic network designed to deliver voice, Internet and TV service figures into the franchise debate, although bill supporters say any of the state's 36 other phone companies, or other providers, someday may offer TV service. Verizon's new lines now stretch over parts of 200 Pennsylvania communities, including 62 in the Pittsburgh region.
Verizon has obtained TV franchises the old-fashioned way with 25 eastern Pennsylvania communities. None yet has FiOS TV service -- which the company said can sustain 220 high-definition channels -- and offers other pluses over traditional cable.
Negotiations continue with about 125 others -- but Verizon's Pennsylvania territory covers 1,600 municipalities. Verizon Pennsylvania President William Petersen said although the company's "slow pace may be good news for cable companies, it is anything but good news for consumers."
The Consumer Affairs Committee will hold three or four more hearings statewide in September on the House bill, introduced in June by Bunt and state Rep. Joseph Preston, D-East Liberty, also a committee member. The Senate is considering a similar bill.
Bunt said the House version has more than 80 cosponsors, and he hopes the Consumer Affairs Committee will advance it for a vote after the hearing process. "We only have October and November" before the end of the legislative session, he said.