Business

Verizon looks to lawmakers to bolster cable TV competition

The Daily ItemBOSTON ? Competition among cable television companies is heating up thanks to recent legislation filed at the State House, and that could spell good news and lower rates for consumers.State Sen. Steen Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, and Rep. James Vallee, a Franklin Democrat, filed legislation on Jan. 10 that would streamline the cable television franchising process in Massachusetts.Verizon, which is now competing in the state with Comcast, expressed support for the legislation.”The legislation filed has consumer benefit written all over it,” said Donna Cupelo, Verizon region president for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “Senator Panagiotakos and Representative Vallee are standing up for consumers who are tired of skyrocketing cable bills and want greater choice in service providers and programming.”Other cable companies like Charter and Time Warner would also be impacted by the legislation, opening up wider markets as they compete to become the service provider in the 43 Massachusetts communities currently without cable television.The bill speeds up cable competition by allowing competitive cable TV providers to apply to the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy for permission to offer cable TV service. Such a process would eliminate the current need to seek permission on a town-by-town basis. At the same time, the bill requires competitive cable operators to provide local programming channels and allows municipalities to set consumer-paid fees to support local public education and government programming.”This bill will finally put an end to the frustration of Massachusetts consumers who have been forced to wait much too long to reap the benefits of cable TV competition,” said Panagiotakas, vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Consumers want new broadband technology and are tired of high cable bills. They are demanding cable TV choice and competition in this industry, and we are ready to make it happen.”The bill is entitled “The Massachusetts Cable Choice and Competition Act” and establishes a 15-day period for state regulators to review and approve an application from a new cable TV provider to establish service. Under the present system, an application review can take up to two years.Cupelo said the bill “will enable us to provide more Massachusetts consumers with expanded cable TV choices and will help grow the state’s economy by spurring innovation, providing incentives for investment and jobs in Massachusetts.”Verizon has been building an all-fiber-optic network capable of providing phone, Internet and video services. Although the company began seeking permission to offer its so-called FiOS TV service in Massachusetts two years, it so far has been granted TV franchises in only 38 of 351 communities statewide, said Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro.Verizon also offers FiOS TV in California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.According to Santoro, the company’s research suggests 87 percent of Massachusetts residents prefer competition and choice for video services.Vallee said Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data shows that where there is head-to-head competition, cable prices are 17 percent lower.The proposed legislation would grandfather existing local franchise agreements until they expire or unless both sides agree to terminate.

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