The Texas Senate passed a sweeping communications reform bill last week, authored by State Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay). SB 21, according to a release from Fraser's office, implements rules to allow new entrants into the video and cable business, transforms the communications industry with a rational progression toward deregulating residential phone markets, and expands opportunities for all Texans to get high-speed Internet.

"This is a huge step forward for Texas consumers and the communications industry," Fraser said. "For years, the cable industry has faced little or no competition. This bill creates a fair and balanced approach to creating additional competition in all aspects of the communications industry, which will in turn bring in billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the state."

Senate Bill 21 creates a state-issued certificate of franchise authority for companies to provide cable or video service after September 1, 2005. This will encourage competition which means prices will decrease for the consumer as well as give them more choices for their video and cable services, said Fraser. "Senate Bill 21 will be the model nationwide as new competitors move into the cable business.

"In the deregulated markets, standard telephone rates will remain frozen for two years, and we are implementing changes that should lower the cost of making an in-state long distance phone call," Fraser said.

The bill also includes a provision to allow access to the Internet through broadband over power lines (BPL). BPL is an emerging technology which delivers Internet connections just like cable and DSL but over existing power lines. This provision allows an electric utility to lease out their power lines to another business to operate a BPL service or system, and consumers will be able to access the Internet through the electric line in their house or business.

"BPL gives consumers greater choices by offering them the opportunity to have phone service over the Internet via the power lines," Fraser said. "This again increases competition in the telecommunications industry while encouraging new competitors to enter the marketplace. This new technology will help drive down costs while allowing all customers, including those in hard-to-serve rural Texas, more choices."

The Texas Cable & Telecommunications Association (TCTA) in a July 13 press release disagreed, calling the bill "a stunning effort to give aid where none is needed," which will "redline and divide communities in the delivery of vital cable and Internet services." TCTA also said the bill would cause phone rates to increase.

The bill now moves to the Texas House.

Wayne Hanson  |  Editor