Telcos such as AT&T and Verizon heard rejoicing

The Federal Communications Commission voted by a 3-2 margin to speed the entry of new competitors into the cable television market by streamlining the local franchising process through which companies gain approvals to offer subscription television services.

Commission concluded that the current operation of the franchising process constitutes an unreasonable barrier to entry that impedes the cable competition and broadband deployment.

The order by the FCC addresses several ways by which local franchising authorities are unreasonably refusing to allow the entry of competitive franchises. These include drawn-out local negotiations with no time limits; unreasonable build-out requirements; unreasonable requests for “in-kind” payments that attempt to subvert the five percent cap on franchise fees; and unreasonable demands with respect to public, educational and government access.

To eliminate the unreasonable barriers to entry into the cable market, and to encourage investment in broadband facilities, the FCC will limit the time of negotiation to no more than 90 days and eliminate many of the deterrents that new entrants are forced to face. Companies breaking into the market will no longer have to abide by any build-out requirements, such as providing service to every part of town.

“Today's action will fast-forward the delivery of new choices, lower prices and better services to consumers. The FCC is standing up for consumers who are tired of skyrocketing cable bills and want greater choice in service providers and programming,” said Susanne Guyer, Verizon senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs. “Verizon has an aggressive schedule to deploy FiOS TV. This order will enable us to reach agreements with local franchise authorities more quickly so we can deliver the benefits of competition to consumers faster. The FCC has taken strong steps to increase consumer choice and spur investment in broadband and video deployment.”