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U.S. Telco A-la-carte TV for Franchise Relief

Top telephone company executives asked the U.S. Congress to streamline cable-franchising rules during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, engendering some sympathy from the panel.

�I believe the franchising process needs to be looked at, needs to be streamlined,� said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a moderate making a point supported by several committee senators from both parties. �The time for a national, streamlined franchising process is now because the era of broadband video is here,� said Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Ivan Seidenberg, who accused cable of �sending their lawyers to impose on Verizon a laundry list of onerous obligations.�

The franchising ruckus prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to begin work on a bill that would eliminate local entry barriers if providers offered a menu of a la carte programming in conjunction with traditional programming packages. AT&T Inc. has promised a la carte offerings if allowed to by content vendors.

�I don�t see why a retired person in Sun City, Ariz., should have to pay an exorbitant fee to watch ESPN,� said McCain, adding that his bill would emerge �soon.�

Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) wants to vote on a bill in March. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said he thinks legislation has a chance because he and other lawmakers want companies to spend billions of dollars to deploy broadband facilities in rural states if provided the right incentives.

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