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OH: Senate committee passes bill that may trump cable deals

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Created 05/09/2007 - 8:01am

from: Cleveland Plain Dealer [1]

Senate committee passes bill that may trump cable deals
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Aaron Marshall
Plain Dealer Reporter

Columbus- Municipal officials and public-access advocates still weren't happy with it, but state lawmakers Tuesday passed a bill out of committee anyway that wipes out local cable franchise agreements in favor of a single statewide standard.

The Senate's Energy and Public Utilities Committee passed Senate Bill 117 by a 7-1 vote. The legislation, sought by media giant AT&T as it attempts to enter Ohio's pay-TV market in a big way, now heads to the Senate floor where approval is expected today.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Jacobson, a Dayton-area Republican, attempted to pacify fierce opposition to the bill from municipalities and public-access channel advocates by tweaking it.

Those changes included allowing advertising revenue to be included when calculating the so-called franchise fees paid by cable providers to local governments. The changes set aside language that some had feared would impact local right-of-way issues. They also protect most existing public-access and governmental (PEG) channels.

But the alterations didn't change many minds.

As a flock of AT&T officials, including the telecommunications giant's Ohio chief, Connie Browning, looked on from a front-row committee room perch, the bill's opponents took turns spitting into the wind.

PEG channel advocates were still upset that fees assessed by local governments for those channels were allowed to continue only until 2012 or when the local cable service provider agreement expires.

But several lawmakers said they saw the PEG fees as a "tax on a tax."

"If these programs are so important, why won't local communities dip into their franchise fees to pay for them?" asked Sen. Tom Niehaus, Republican of New Richmond.

Meanwhile, city officials still had a beef with language in the bill that forces video service providers in an area to serve only 30 percent of a given community.

Valarie McCall, chief of governmental affairs for the city of Cleveland, testified briefly at the hearing but seemed resigned that the bill would come out of the Ohio Senate without stronger language added.

"These concerns are serious concerns that have to be addressed in the House," she said.

Cleveland wants video service providers to be forced to offer all available pay TV packages to every customer in the city.

Jacobson defended the bill.

"Why do you want to set up a situation where people can't provide their services according to their own game plan?" Jacobson said after the vote. "Certainly no one who is currently providing service is going to pick up and leave."

He called the 30 percent standard very progressive and said it was stronger than what has been passed in other states.

Oddly, the only vote against the bill came from the committee's chairman, Sen. Robert Schuler, a Cincinnati-area Republican. He said there were some issues "we could have worked on to make the bill better," such as preserving the local public-access fees beyond 2012 if the existing local contracts ran longer.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 1-800-228-8272

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