Local governments will have 90 days to act on cable-franchise applications filed by AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications and other entities with existing rights to access city-owned conduits, the FCC ruled in an action on December 20 that split the agency along partisan lines. With support from major phone firms, FCC chairman Kevin Martin championed franchise reform as his proclaimed antidote for rising nominal cable rates and for spurring deployment of high-speed Internet-access facilities across the country. Because cable incumbents were not granted similar 90-day guarantees, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (“NCTA”) called the FCC vote a rejection of a “level playing field” among cable providers.
Needing more time to evaluate the FCC’s order in full, NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow declined to promise that the trade group would take the agency to court. While fellow Republicans Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell backed Martin, Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein refused to go along, claiming that the Commission was on shaky legal ground in thinking that it could boss thousands of cities and towns on how to charter new cable entrants. The new franchise rules are expected to take legal effect early next year.
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