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TUESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2007
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EDITORIAL

Changing world warrants change in cable regulation

Thirty years ago, in the infancy of cable television, it made sense for the Federal Communications Commission to grant local governments the authority to negotiate franchise agreements.

Introducing cable was an expensive and invasive proposition. Cable providers had to wire every home, usually using locally owned utility poles to roll out the cable. Only a handful of companies had the resources and ability to undertake such a massive project, and the FCC gave local governments franchising authority to negotiate the best deals for their communities. Those deals often included franchise fees and promises by the cable provider to broadcast local-access and government programming.

Perhaps nothing has changed more in the past 30 years than the extent to which our homes are wired. Many homes have cable as well as telephone lines, digital subscriber lines, fiber optic lines, satellite dishes and other means of transmission and reception. The massive cable rollout resulted in a larger number of companies with the ability to provide cable television service. And many experts believe we will be watching television mostly through our personal computers in the near future.

The dramatic change in the market warrants the policy change the FCC approved on a 3-2 vote Dec. 20 that will make it easier for telephone companies to get into the cable television business. The change will spur even more competition, resulting in lower cable rates, better customer service and more programming choices.

Representatives of local government officials opposed the change, arguing that it will eliminate local oversight, pare dollars for public-access programming and hurt rural and poor communities.

But in this day when information is only a click away, local-government television programming is less necessary than it was 30 years ago.

Local governments may lose out on franchise fees, but cable companies passed those costs along to the consumer each month anyway. They were, in effect, a local-government tax on television service.

The new rule will mean more competition. That is a change that will benefit the consumer through more choices, better service and reduced cost.

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