The Falls Church City Council this week adopted a position similar to that of other local governments around the country, and asked its U.S. senators and congressman to oppose a change in federal communications legislation that would severely limit government control of cable television franchising.
Proposed revisions to the 1934 Federal Communications Act, now under study by the Senate Commerce Committee, would strip federal, state and local government of the right to set subscription rates or require the operator of a franchise to provide community programming.
Although Falls Church does not yet have cable television, plans to introduce it sometime in the future prompted council members to call for protection of what are regarded as standard bargaining tools in the bidding process for a cable television franchise.
The large number of applicants bidding for potentially lucrative franchises have in the past enable most governments to demand -- and receive -- access to the airwaves in the form of community programming. Applicants also can increase their chances of being selected to operate a franchise by promising low subscription rates.
The proposed deregulation, Falls Church council members fear, would make it impossible to bring pressure on franchisers locally despite the fact that franchises are granted on a local basis.
"This is a very bad piece of legislation," said council member Edward Strait. "If we cannot demand certain requirements during the franchise process, we will have no control whatsoever."
"We will be powerless," he predicted.
According to a spokesman from the National League of Cities, only the cable TV companies themselves would retain power in the cable television scramble.
"Nobody would have authority to do anything," said spokesman Ray Arndt. "Essentially, the cable operator could do what he wants in terms of preparing an application for a franchise. The city would still choose the applicant, but the bill doesn't indicate that the city has authority to enforce any part of the proposal once the franchise has been granted."
The National League of Cities has been leading a protest against the proposed legislation, asking the 60 or more cities currently looking at cable television to oppose the changes. A Senate hearing is expected at an as yet unspecified date, according to Arndt.