NASHVILLE — House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh took issue Monday with Gov. Phil Bredesen’s assertions that the speaker probably would not succeed in his effort to broker a compromise between AT&T and the cable industry on a statewide cable licensing process.
“I respectfully disagree,” said Rep. Naifeh, D-Covington. “We’ll have a good bill, and it’s something that will be good for the state of Tennessee.”
Rep. Naifeh’s remarks came in a news conference about private negotiations he is helping oversee between AT&T and the cable industry.
AT&T wants the General Assembly to adopt a statewide franchising process that would allow the company to offer cable television anywhere it wants across the state. Local governments currently control franchising.
The cable TV industry and city and county government supporters blocked the measure last year, contending AT&T’s proposal would give the company an unfair advantage while reducing local government control.
Legislative proponents argue the proposal would promote wider deployment of faster broadband communications access to rural Tennessee.
Rep. Naifeh’s news conference appeared to be in response to comments Gov. Bredesen made last week to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The governor said he may get involved in the issue.
“I’m looking at some alternatives,” he said. “I don’t think what Speaker Naifeh is trying to do can be successful.
“Last year and so far this year, it’s shaping up into what AT&T wants versus what the cable TV companies want,” Gov. Bredesen said. “Maybe at some point, we ought to consider what Tennesseans want. It’s something I am taking a look at how I might have an influence on.”
Surrounded by some of his top Democratic House leaders as well as Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Lexington, and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, two GOP sponsors of the bill, Rep. Naifeh gave an update on talks. He said a major outstanding issue involves a disagreement over banning licensees from “red lining,” or excluding, poorer communities when offering services to a city or county.
Sen. Ketron said that in the end, lawmakers are “going to come out of here with a good bill.” The talks have been going on for about five to six weeks.
Cities and counties have not been included in negotiations but will be later, Rep. Naifeh said.
Rep. Naifeh said he would welcome assistance from Gov. Bredesen’s chief lobbyist, Pat Miller, or the governor himself “if he would want to spend this amount of time that we’re spending on it.”
Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said, “Governor Bredesen is pleased to hear that progress is being made, and he appreciates Speaker Naifeh’s leadership on this issue. He is encouraged to know these efforts are focused on building a plan that will benefit all Tennesseans.”
Disclosures show AT&T, the cable industry and their allies collectively spent $10.7 million to $11.2 million on lobbying and related activity for the year ending Sept. 30, 2007.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...