The Federal Communications Commission has kicked off a proceeding that could make it easier for cable's competitors to move into operators' exclusive territories.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) -- The Federal Communications Commission has kicked off a proceeding that could make it easier for cable's competitors to move into operators' exclusive territories.

According to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking approved by the commission, the FCC wants to ensure that local franchise licenses keep cable competition at bay.

Phone companies and traditional cable overbuilders complain that exclusive franchises issued by cities and other local governments to cable operators serve as a barrier to competition.

The FCC's decision to begin a rulemaking proceeding indicates that they consider the complaints have merit.

"We are hearing from some providers that local authorities may be making the process of getting franchises unreasonably difficult," FCC chairman Kevin Martin said. "New video entrants, regardless of the technology they employ, should be encouraged -- not impeded from entry."

The proceeding was approved on a 4-0 vote as Democrats agreed to go along with it because it also examines other issues like "red lining" -- when companies avoid bringing services to poor areas.

Senior Democratic commissioner Michael Copps said the franchising system "has generally worked for consumers, incumbent cable operators and municipalities."

While the franchising system also has worked for new comers in many places, Copps said he wanted to ensure that competition isn't foreclosed.

"It is important that it works for new entrants if we are going to be able to reap the rewards that competition brings to consumers," he said. "In the current environment, it may be that some changes are called for, and certainly we have an ongoing obligation to consider ways to improve the process."

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