Blunt signs cable TV bill into law
Jefferson City, MO – Local cable TV companies in Missouri could soon get more competition.
Governor Matt Blunt on Thursday signed a law that seeks to make it easier for telephone companies like AT&T to start offering video service over their fiber-optic wires in competition with existing cable TV companies.
The bill would let any company get approval from the state to offer TV service anywhere in Missouri. That's a big change from the current system, where cable companies have to negotiate separate franchise agreements with each city.
AT$T has pledged to spend more than $100 million to expand its video service in Missouri as a result of the new law, which takes effect Aug. 28.
Eleven other states already have similar laws or policies creating statewide video franchising systems.
The Missouri Senate and House overwhelmingly passed the legislation last week. Blunt, who had supported it during in his State of the State speech in January, said consumers ultimately should benefit.
"When government allows businesses to create jobs and to compete in an open market, Missourians see lower prices and more choices," Blunt said in a written statement Thursday announcing he had signed the bill.
Cable television currently is provided in Missouri through about 550 separate franchise agreements with local governments. The new law not only gives phone companies the right to seek a state video franchise but also allows cable companies to cut off their local franchise deals in favor of the state process.
That could lead to an end of some locally negotiated consumer protections, such as boards to mediate customer complaints against cable companies. The bill also would allow incumbent cable companies to quit funding local public access channels in the future, although all video service companies still could be required to carry such channels.
Telecommunications companies entering into the TV business would have to pay the same local fees that cable companies currently pay. But lawmakers rejected efforts to start charging satellite TV providers a comparable fee, which would have been used to fund the expansion of broadband Internet service in rural Missouri.
OTHER NEW LAWS
Blunt on Thursday also signed two other bills into law.
- One sets new requirements for public construction projects. It prohibits union-only arrangements from being used on projects receiving at least half their money from the state. The bill also increases the fines for employers who don't pay workers the prevailing local wage for public construction projects.
- The other bill authorizes an additional $122 million in spending on top of the state's $21 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that runs through June. It includes additional money for public schools, the purchase of flu medicine and incentives for ethanol producers, among other things.