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TX Sen. Fraser's Telecom Bill, SB 21, Passes Out of Senate

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Sen. Troy Fraser's (R-Horseshoe Bay) second stab at passing out of his telecom bill, SB 21, out of the Senate was a little easier than the first.

Fraser finally came up with enough votes to suspend the Senate rules and bring the bill up on the floor, but before it was passed, Sen. Kip Averitt (R-McGregor) expressed his concerns to his fellow members about the implications of the bill. Averitt offered an amendment calling for a study on right-of-way use and the amount of compensation paid to government entities and technology service providers. His amendment also would a report from the study be filed in November 2006.

Saying he did not think the bill has had a "full and public vetting" since Fraser only offered his floor substitute today, Averitt urged members to "take the time to get a comfort level on these important issues."

Averitt said he is concerned by the fact that two of the three primary stakeholder groups affected by the bill were "vehemently opposed" to the bill.

The lawmaker said cities have expressed to him their concerns regarding certain aspects of the video franchise in their cities and the loss of revenue they foresee if the bill is enacted. "They would not be raising a ruckus if they thought they would be held harmless," he said. He said cities have a "legitimate concern" that their revenue stream will be eroded in this process.

Additionally, said Averitt, the bill creates a "brand new gross receipts tax" that will be imposed on rural communities. "I think we should be concerned about that." He said the Senate had a "very legitimate" debate on the same issue during discussion on HB 3, and the weight of importance of the issue is just as important in SB 21.

"We need to be careful about what we're doing here," said Averitt. He said cable operators are concerned that not just anybody gets the new provisions in this legislation. Cable operators, he said, are not allowed to opt out of their existing contracts. "They're stuck with the deal they have." New interests in the competition would have all of the advantages of this legislation, said Averitt.

Fraser opposed Averitt's amendment, saying it "guts the proposal of what we're trying to do."

Averitt issued a warning again in closing on his amendment. "I don't believe we've vetted it fully," he said, again pointing to the unintended consequences the bill might cause. "We're rushing to judgment." He said the Houston City Council today is dealing with a problem relating to a program on a public access channel. "Where are your constituents going to complain when we turn these franchises over to Public Utility Commission and a local access channel has boys and girls dancing around in the nude? These are things you need to be thinking about. I would strongly ask you to consider the implications of what you're doing. Let's study it a little bit further and make sure our citizens are protected."

Averitt's amendment did not pass, but Fraser was able to garner enough support for the bill to pass it out of the Senate by a 25-3-1.