September 9, 2008
PA 07-253, FRANCHISING, AND PUBLIC ACCESS TV
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked how PA 07-253 affects cable TV franchising and public access TV. Your question was prompted by a constituent who (1) asserted that the act did away with cable franchising and allows AT&T to charge nonprofit organizations that administer public access in several parts of the state for the cost of interconnecting their studios with AT&T's network and (2) was uncertain as to whether the act eliminated the requirement that cable TV companies financially support public access. OLR Report 2008-R-0066 addresses several related issues. As used in this report “public access” includes educational and governmental access programming.
PA 07-253, in effect, does away with cable franchising. It does not affect the requirement that cable TV companies financially support public access. It requires new entrants in the video services market, such as AT&T, to provide on-going support for public access, but does not require that they provide public access studios or meet certain other requirements imposed on cable companies. The act is silent on who pays for the cost of interconnection between access studios and AT&T's network. A bill (HB 5814) favorably reported by the Energy and Technology Committee this year would have, in effect, made companies like AT&T responsible for these costs, but these provisions were ultimately not adopted.
PA 07-253 GENERAL PROVISIONS
PA 07-253 requires companies, other than cable companies and their affiliates, that seek to provide video programming to be certified by the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC). Under the act, these companies are called certified competitive video service providers (“providers”). The act subjects the providers to some of the requirements that apply to cable companies, including several concerning public access. But the providers are not subject to other requirements that historically applied to cable companies, including obtaining and renewing a franchise for a specified number of years, being subject to rate regulation, and being required to build out their systems.
Once a provider enters the service territory of a cable company, the act allows the cable company to apply for a new certificate in lieu of its existing franchise. Once DPUC grants the new certificate, the cable company becomes subject to a similar type of regulation as the provider.
On November 1, 2007, DPUC granted AT&T a statewide certificate as a provider. Virtually all of the cable companies have applied for and received the new certificates authorized by the act (the one exception is an affiliate of Groton municipal utilities that provides cable service in part of southeastern Connecticut; the Comcast franchise that also serves this area has obtained a certificate).
The act exempts providers from traditional franchising and allows cable companies to obtain a certificate in lieu of a franchise once a provider enters its franchise area. The act has no provisions for DPUC to set a time limit on the certificates it authorizes or to revoke a certificate.
Under current law, DPUC must consider several factors in determining the length of a cable company's franchise, including the quality of its public access programming. To obtain a franchise for more than 10 years, the company must commit itself to provide or maintain technologically advanced equipment, facilities, and systems to enhance and promote technologically advanced educational programming. These provisions do not apply under the act's certification processes.
The act subjects providers to some, but not all, of the public access requirements that apply to cable companies. It does not appear to affect the public access responsibilities of cable companies.
Provisions that Apply to Providers
Under the act, within 120 days after a provider begins offering service in an area under its certificate, it must provide capacity over its video service to allow public access programming in its basic service package. The provider must provide:
1. the same number of public access channels as currently offered by the incumbent cable TV company in the area;
2. funds for public access operations in the same way as cable TV companies; and
3. for the transmission of public access programming with connectivity up to at least 200 feet from its activated wireline distribution facility, without imposing additional requirements for the creation of any content.
The public access programming must be submitted to the provider in a form compatible with the technology or protocol it uses to deliver video services, and must be capable of being accepted and transmitted by the provider without requiring alteration or change in the content by the provider. These requirements may require public access operators to purchase encoders, decoders, and other equipment, since AT&T uses a technology that differs from that used to provide traditional cable service.
The act is silent on who pays for such equipment. This session, the Energy and Technology Committee favorably reported HB 5814, which would have required providers to transmit public access programming anywhere in their service areas, rather than just within 200 feet of the provider's wire line network. It would have eliminated the provision requiring that community access programming be submitted to the provider in a way that allows it to use its network to transmit the programming without having to alter or change its content. The bill also had several provisions regarding the provision of public access in the six-town Bridgeport franchise area. This bill did not pass, although the legislature adopted a related bill (SB 677/PA 08-159). PA 08-159 imposes several requirements on the nonprofit organization that administers public access programming in the six-town Bridgeport franchise area. It requires the cable company serving this area to provide funding to one or more towns in the area for town-specific educational and governmental access programming.
Unlike cable companies, providers are not required to provide studios and other facilities, equipment, and technical and managerial support to enable the production of public access programming. They are also not required to conduct various outreach programs and adopt public access scheduling policies that promote program diversity.
Provisions Applicable to Cable TV Companies
Once the cable company obtains the new certificate, it is generally subject to the same requirements that apply to providers. The company continues to be subject to most of the law's requirements regarding public access, including requirements for funding public access operations. In addition, PA 07-253 continues to require cable companies that are responsible for public access to:
1. provide facilities, equipment, and technical and managerial support to enable the production of meaningful public access programming;
2. carry all of the public access channels on its basic service tier;
3. conduct various outreach programs;
4. adopt scheduling policies that promote program diversity; and
5. comply with DPUC standards regarding public access equipment.