Cable bill loses a critical clause

Published April 25, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - In the telephone industry's multimillion-dollar battle for access to Florida's TV market, cable companies and consumer groups suffered a serious blow Tuesday.

With a unanimous vote and little discussion, the Senate Committee on General Government Appropriations undid what it took cable companies and consumer groups four weeks to achieve.

Sponsor Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, removed language requiring companies entering a cable TV market to offer services to 50 percent of low-income residences - a provision inserted by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, last month.

The bill would allow telephone companies to get franchising authority from the state, rather than local counties and municipalities.

Supporters such as Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, who pushed a version of the bill through the House, say the increased competition could benefit consumers by $407-million. Opponents worry it would strip local governments of control and encourage market entrants to cherry-pick the most profitable neighborhoods.

Consumer activists for ACORN, Florida Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of the Southeast blasted the committee action as ignoring consumer voices, but cable industry leaders were more measured.

"This is a work in progress," said Steve Wilkerson of the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association.