Local governments want to change senate telecom bill

by Ted Hearn, multichannel.com

Top local government organizations want changes to a Senate telecommunications bill or they plan to oppose the measure if it ever reaches the Senate floor.

In a letter Monday, local officials outlined their objections to the bill (S. 2686, H.R. 5252), which passed the Senate Commerce Committee last Wednesday in a 15-7 vote that left its main backer, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), wondering whether he has sufficient support -- 60 votes -- to get the full Senate to debate the bill.

Five local organizations -- including the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties -- said the fact that the bill excluded a requirement that phone companies need to extend their video facilities to all potential subscribers in a franchise area was a “gave concern.”

They added that tax relief for wireless-phone companies and a permanent ban on taxation of Internet access were “unacceptable.”

Lastly, they objected to an amendment sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that would exempt from cable franchising a hybrid video service that combined satellite TV and terrestrial broadband service. AT&T’s Homezone project -- which offers satellite TV with movies and video downloaded from the Internet -- would be covered by the exemption.

“To exclude satellite service integrated with landline service appears to be inconsistent with our prior understanding and your public statements as to the applicability of this legislation to AT&T,” the local officials said.

The Stevens bill, however, includes a definition of “video-service provider” intended to require AT&T to obtain a franchise for its Internet-protocol-TV product, U-Verse, which more closely resembles traditional cable TV than Homezone. AT&T is rolling out U-Verse in San Antonio.

Local governments argued that the Homezone exemption was a franchising loophole that needed to be closed.

“Unless we receive assurances that the tax amendments and the modifications to the video-service-provider definition will be removed during floor debate, we will have to urge our members to oppose the bill,” local officials said.

Also signing the letter were officials from the National League of Cities, the Government Finance Officers Association and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

The story was different for radio however, with the minority workforce down from 7.9% in 2004 to 6.4% in 2005.

Minorities in TV station news top management also increased, with 13.2% of news directors minorities vs. 12% the year before.

The percentage of women staffers was up a bit in local TV news to 40% from 39.3%, but they fared better in top posts, claiming 25.2% of the news director jobs in TV, up from 21.3% in 2004.

Radio was going in opposite direction there, too, with women making up 24.8% of staffers in 2005, down from 27.5% in 2004. Only 20.4% of news directors were women, compared to 24.7%.

The survey was conducted in fourth quarter 2005 and based on responses from 1,120 TV stations (69.3% of all stations), and responses from 181 radio news directors and general managers representing 602 radio stations.

article originally published at http://multichannel.com/article/CA6349902.html?display=Breaking+News.

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