After kicking it around in some form or another for the last six years, the state Legislature may finally adopt a bill to change the way franchise fees work. Some said it could be bad news for Idaho cities, and could cost Pocatello nearly $80,000.
Currently, Idaho cities can collect a 5 percent franchise fee on the general revenues of cable companies. House Bill 410 would basically make that a state responsibility, not a local one. The bill is primarily being pushed by CenturyLink, that said it won't bring its newest brand of television service to Idaho without getting rid of that fee, said Pocatello Chief Financial Officer David Swindell.
The bill would also eliminate the city's current contracts with cable companies, where the $80,000 loss would come from, he said.
"It's just another degree of freedom we would lose. I mean, $80,000 a year is significant," Swindell said.
The city will lose the ability to regulate companies when they do things such as, dig up a street to put in new lines, he said.
The fee goes to pay for right-of-ways that companies need to build infrastructure, and while the current bill would provide for some of those costs, Swindell said that accountability is the real issue.
"If you cut a trench across our street did you tell anybody you were going to do it? Did you have traffic control? Did you put it back correctly? Those issues and responsibilities don't go away even if our authority over those matters is diminished," he said.
But, City Council Member Steve Brown said, Pocatello is in a losing position either way.
"As I look at the political environment for this legislation, it's either going to pass with us, or it's going to pass without us. The question really is, do we want to participate at all in it passing?" Brown said.
The city would be in a better position if it sat down with the city of Boise, CenturyLink and the cable companies and worked out a deal, Brown said. But, much of what the city hoped to negotiate for is off the table as the bill moves swiftly through the Legislature, he said.
"If we don't come to the table, we're going to miss our chance to participate at all," Brown said.
That chance to participate may already be gone, as the Legislature will be doing work on the bill on Wednesday that could solidify it and get rid of the negotiating table completely, Brown said.
The city of Boise and the Association of Idaho Cities both oppose the bill in its current form, as well.
The franchise fee also goes to fund Pocatello's public access channel.