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Competition for cable companies

Published (3/18/2010)
By Nick Busse
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Cable and Internet providers in some parts of the state could get new competition, if a bill approved by a House division becomes law.

Sponsored by Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul),  HF2852 would make it easier for telephone companies to offer “triple-play” services — voice, video and Internet — by letting local governments grant cable franchises to companies that already provide phone services within a given area.

Approved March 15 by the House Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division, the bill now goes to the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), who co-sponsors the bill, said current law is unclear whether local franchise authorities may allow telephone companies to provide cable services to customers without running into certain legal roadblocks meant to protect existing franchisees.

As an example, Beard said the telecommunications company Mediacom is suing the City of Prior Lake for granting a franchise to a local phone company that wants to offer cable services in part of Mediacom’s service area.

“In effect, there are cities that would like to have the existing carriers offer more broadband services … but the law, the way it’s written, has a very chilling effect on what happens,” Beard said.

Tony Mendoza, an attorney representing the Minnesota Cable Communications Association, called the bill “unfair and unnecessary.” He noted that the lawsuit between Mediacom and Prior Lake is currently being reviewed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and argued the bill would usurp the court’s authority.

“These types of disputes are best settled by local franchising authorities, and if necessary, on appeal to courts, where evidence and arguments from all parties can be weighed to ensure that video providers are competing under fair rules,” Mendoza said.

A companion,  SF2535, sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the full Senate.

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