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Policy

N.J. Bill Would Ease PEG Pain

2/07/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Verizon
Communications, joined by
some cable operators, is pushing
a bill in the New Jersey Legislature
that would relieve telco and
cable operators of most of their
municipal franchising obligations,
including public, education
and government channels,
equipment and wiring schools
and government buildings.

The New Jersey State League of
Municipalities released an action
alert on the bill last week.

A Verizon spokesman confi
rmed it supported the bill, but
more because of the portion relating
to competition among
competitive voice services than
about competitive cable services.

Cable operators in the state
want deregulation to reform laws
designed for a monopoly era that
no longer exists in New Jersey.

The cable portion of S. 2664
would leave intact franchise fees
and municipal obligations to provide
public rights of way. Other
obligations, including PEG channels
and municipal networks,
would go away, though, if there
was competition in the marketplace.

COMPETITIVE TEST

The measure defines competition as “a franchise area
where a cable television company certifies to the office
of the Secretary of State that there are at least two multichannel
video programming distributors … offering
video programming in that franchise area, or portions
thereof.”

The New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association’s
member companies — Comcast, Cablevision Systems
and Time Warner Cable — would all meet the
competitive test, according to spokesman Mark Nevins.

“Cable is committed to continuing relationships with
schools, libraries and municipal buildings,” Nevins said.
“Additionally, cable will continue to look to provide access
programming in a meaningful way that fits the needs and
demands of today’s consumers and reflects the way customers
consume video.”

Paul Fader of the association told the New Jersey Senate
Economic Growth Committee that the bill would square
New Jersey’s laws with those of more than 35 states, including
neighbors Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut
and Virginia. “They have operated under a similar model
as proposed in this bill, yet cable subscribers receive robust
service with no consumer detriment.”

Regulations addressed in the bill, in some cases, have
been in place for close to a century, Verizon manager of
media relations Lee Gierczynski said. “Th is would update
them to refl ect the competitive market that exists today,
that did not exist then.”

He said Verizon New Jersey president Dennis Bone’s testimony
in the state Senate last week, in support of the bill
the bill, was primarily targeted at telecom regulations that
apply only to Verizon. The telco supports the entire bill “because
of the reform that it brings to the market,” he said.

PEG backers see this as something
that could spread from New
Jersey.
PEG advocate Bunnie Riedel,
executive director of American
Community Television, called
it “the most scorch-earthed bill
we have seen in terms of the destruction
of PEG access television.”
If it passes, “we know we
will have to battle every other cable
operator in the country. Now
is not the time to be attacking our
local communities and our local
media.”

PLEA TO TELCO

She said it was surprising that
Verizon was endorsing the measure,
given support of local
communities and local PEG programming
around the country. If
Verizon is focused on the telecom
portion, she said it should get
other aspects of the bill amended
and “make PEG access television
and communities whole.”

Although Fader made a point
of telling the committee that
his members included Comcast,
the nat ion’s largest cable
operator, a spokesperson
for the MSO had no comment
on whether it supported the
bill, but did say that no matter
what happened, it would hold to the PEG pledges in its
public interest commitments to the FCC. As a condition
of its deal for control of NBC Universal, Comcast
promised to continue carrying PEG channels and not
to degrade their signal.

September