by Marc Kovac

Capital Bureau Chief

Columbus -- Lawmakers approved amended legislation creating statewide licensing requirements for cable television providers.

The Ohio House version of Senate Bill 117 represents compromises among local governments, cable providers and customers and replaces an existing system that is cumbersome, outdated and strangles new technology and investments, said Rep. John Hagan, (R-Alliance), chairman of the Public Utilities Committee.

"This bill will allow consumers to have a choice," he said. "Consumers want video choice. Senate Bill 117 will open the door to competition by encouraging new providers to enter the market, bringing more choices, innovation and better products and services to Ohio consumers."

The bill, which passed the state Senate last month 29-4, would create a statewide franchising system for cable services. Such agreements currently are negotiated at the local level.

Sponsoring Sen. Jeff Jacobson, (R-Cincinnati), earlier said the legislation was needed to allow new providers into the market. During earlier committee testimony, proponents, including AT&T, said the bill would improve competition and consumer choice in the state.

But opponents, including a number of local governments who negotiated cable contracts and related fees for their communities, were worried the bill would lead to decreased revenues and public access channels, fewer local access channels and less local control.

The original bill was amended to address concerns over right of way, enforcement and revenue issues and changed provisions related to public, educational and governmental programming channels.

The House further amended the bill in an effort to compromise with the different parties that would be affected.

Hagan said the number of public, educational and governmental programming channels was increased to three from two. The bill also would allow existing agreements to remain in place unless a competitive provider enters a local market and requires a video service provider to pay underpaid franchise fees with interest within 30 days, Hagan said.

"This bill was truly crafted with compromise," said Rep. L. George Distel, (D-Conneaut.) "It is good for the companies involved, it is good for local government and it is good for consumers."

The final vote June 14 was 92-2, with Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr.,(R-Cincinnati), and Rep. Jeff Wagner, (R-Sycamore), opposing.

It next will return to Senate for concurrence.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Newspapers Capital Bureau chief. E-mail him at mkovac@dixcom.com.