[JURIST] The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] on Wednesday approved new rules [press release, PDF] to prevent local governments from blocking the entrance of companies in the cable television market, highlighting a sharp partisan divide in the five-person panel. The new rules will require local cable franchising authorities to make decisions on applications from new competitors within six months, and make decisions on applications from competitors with access to easements within 90 days. The rules also prevent localities from making the new companies build out their systems more quickly than existing carriers, and requires local governments to count some set up costs for new carriers as part of the five percent franchise fee imposed by the local governments. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin expressed hope that the new rules will help increase competition and ultimately lower prices for consumers [statement, PDF], reflecting on staggering increases in cable prices. The FCC released a report [press release, PDF] Wednesday on cable prices over the last decade, showing that prices increased by 93 percent between 1995 and 2005.
Democrats on the FCC panel, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps [statements, PDF], criticized the new rules, arguing that the FCC presented questionable evidence of the existing barriers to entry for new competitors, and also questioned whether the FCC has authority to impose the new rules. US Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee [official website], on Tuesday warned that the FCC may "exceed the agency's authority and usurp congressional prerogative" by implementing the new rules. Critics also argue that increasing local competition by allowing phone companies to enter the market more easily may not actually lower prices for consumers and may not offer their service in low-income areas. AP has more.