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Background Edit

  1. The City of Pittsburgh has a cable contract with Comcast.
  2. The City of Pittsburgh as its own cable TV breau, an in-house TV production crew.

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Details Edit

  • Brenda Frashier, a city resident on the County Council, was not interested in spending county money to broadcast the county meetings. Those meetings have never been on TV nor cable.
  • When Jim Roddey was County Executive, Roddey did stream a state of the county budget address from County Council chambers onto the internet.
  • Pittsburgh School Board is considering creating its own television production shop.
  • Many schools in Allegheny County have robust television programs and classroom facilities.
  • Peters Township has a nice tv facility in the high school and it is shared with the community cable outfit as well.

DetailsEdit

Cable TV deregulation plan could cut rates through competitionEdit

Source: Wednesday, June 07, 2006 By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
(Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes contributed. Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141. )

HARRISBURG -- More channels, better service and lower rates could be in store for cable TV subscribers under a deregulation plan unveiled yesterday.

Under the legislation, would-be cable providers no longer would have to negotiate franchise agreements individually with each municipality where they have customers. Instead, providers would apply for state approval and be authorized to operate in all 2,565 municipalities.

The change would create more opportunities for competition and better rates for subscribers, the bill's sponsors said at a news conference yesterday.

The process of negotiating franchise agreements is a time-consuming deterrent to new providers entering the market, said supporters of the legislation proposed by Sens. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, and Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia.

"We need to update and consolidate Pennsylvania's outdated municipal cable franchise laws and encourage competition," Mr. Pileggi said. "The winners will be Pennsylvania consumers, who will be able to choose their cable company the same way they choose their telephone company. And they can make that choice based on cost and quality."

Proponents of the legislation, including the American Consumer Institute, say franchise agreements can take years to negotiate, largely because municipalities use them as leverage for other gains. Some, for example, have required franchise holders to provide municipal swimming pools, stadium lights, trees, college scholarships and cable discounts for government employees.

That is leverage that Pittsburgh City Councilman William Peduto does not want to give up.

"This would strip away local rights," he said of the deregulation bill. "There are trade-offs for local rights of way and those belong to the host municipality."

As part of the Pittsburgh franchise agreement, Comcast had to wire schools and municipal buildings for fiber-optic telecommunication. The city also was able to negotiate provisions that ensure good service, including the number of local employees, the length of time it takes to answer the phone and the length of time it takes to receive service. The city also mandates that Comcast wire all areas of the city, even those where there are no current subscribers.

"There is no reason other providers can't play by the same rules that the others already operate under," Mr. Peduto said. "They don't want to because there are additional costs. They would rather work one agreement with the state, an agreement that takes away the rights of municipalities."

"Any operator seeking to provide cable television service to Pennsylvania consumers can do so today by following existing rules," said Daniel R. Tunnell, president of the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania, which also opposes Mr. Pileggi's bill.

"The current system works. Verizon and other companies have proven this fact by securing global franchise agreements in many communities throughout Pennsylvania."

Verizon, which is relatively new to the cable TV market and supports Mr. Pileggi's legislation, has eight municipal cable franchises allowing it to compete for customers in parts of Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.

"The legislation properly recognizes that technology and competition have outpaced current cable franchising regulations," said William B. Petersen, president of Verizon Pennsylvania. "This bill encourages new competitors to invest in and provide cable TV alternatives for consumers."

Under the legislation, cable companies still would have to pay franchise fees -- up to 5 percent of gross receipts -- to the municipalities in which they operate.

The change is long overdue, Mr. Pileggi said. He estimates that more cable competition could save Pennsylvanians about $329 million a year.

Cable TV costs have been escalating at quadruple the rate of inflation, he said.

J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, said the legislation would stem those increases.

"Cable companies hold monopoly control in their service territories," he said. "As a result, they can and do charge outrageous prices ... increasing the pressure on the household budgets of thousands of working families."

If the legislation passes, Gov. Ed Rendell, who does a sports telecast for Comcast after Philadelphia Eagles games, said he could fairly evaluate it despite his ties to the cable TV giant.

He said yesterday that he didn't yet know enough about the bill to comment.

He defended his effort last year to get $30 million in state funding for Comcast's new office building in Philadelphia, saying it added 4,000 jobs and was a good idea.

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