If you thought all those telecom lobbyists would leave City Hall once the L.A. City Council and the courts ruled on the high-speed Internet access issue, think again.

After spending $5.9 million lobbying on the issue from January 1999 through September of last year, the telecom players are now turning their attention to cable franchise renewals. These renewals, many of which will be coming up over the next 18 months, are going to generate several million more dollars for the telecom lobbyists.

The city has 14 cable franchise service areas, with each franchise lasting for 15 years or until a change of company ownership occurs. The last time the franchises were renewed en masse, in the mid-1980s, it was a fairly routine matter and did not turn out to be a bonanza for the lobbyists. Cable television with its premium channels was just coming into its own, and the industry was still highly regulated on the national level.

This time around, it's a whole new ballgame. Deregulation, new services from digital cable to high-speed Internet access and even phone service and a wave of consolidations and mergers have completely remade the cable landscape. And with that comes a host of contentious issues, ranging from pricing and ensuring public access to the airwaves, to competition from satellite services and fiber-network over-builders like RCN Corp.

All of these issues are going to keep lobbyists busy both at outside lobbying firms like Cerrell Associates (which represents the Los Angeles Cable Operators Association) and inside the three major cable operators in L.A.: AT & T; Broadband, Adelphia Communications Corp. and Time-Warner Inc.

"I expect the lobbying to be fast and furious, especially as these franchises get before the City Council next year," said Rohit Shukla, vice president of the Board of Commissioners of the Information Technology Agency.

Whether the lobbying dollars on the franchise renewals will surpass the $6 million spent on the Internet access issue is another matter. Many familiar with the cable franchise issue say it probably won't.

"There will probably be less dollars (going) to outside lobbyists than on the Internet access issue," said David Gershwin, spokesman for Councilman Alex Padilla, who chairs the City Council's Information Technology Committee. "I expect there will be more internal lobbyists working on the renewals, but even then, I don't expect it to hit the fever pitch we saw in 1999."

That was when the ITA and the council were debating whether the city should require cable operators to open up their wires to Internet service providers and other telecom players so there could be competition for high-speed Internet access. The ISPs and telephone companies wanted the city to require such access, while cable operators fiercely opposed requiring it.

The issue was rendered largely moot last year when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case involving Portland, Ore., that only the federal government had jurisdiction over the matter. Nonetheless, the L.A. City Council voted in November to enact an advisory policy of requiring cable companies to open their wires, a decision that turned out to be anticlimactic.

DWP Sale Lambasted

L.A. City Councilman Nate Holden, known for his sometimes provocative proposals like bringing Al Davis and his Raiders NFL football team back to L.A. is at it again.

In the week between Christmas and New Year's, when City Hall was largely deserted, Holden issued a scathing press release attacking the L.A. Department of Water & Power and its decision approved 13-2 by the City Council last summer to sell its 20 percent stake in the Mohave Generating Station near Las Vegas to AES Corp. of Arlington, Va.

Holden started his press release with some choice words about DWP chief David Freeman, who has been the toast of the town of late for keeping the DWP out of the deregulation mess that private power companies Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric now find themselves in.

"What he has done, in order to creep us in to the deregulation program, is sell off the Mojave (sic) Desert power plant for $190 million," Holden said. "That plant produced 100 megawatts of energy per hour!"

Of course, Holden was one of the two City Council votes against the sale (the other was Rita Walters). He now sees a chance to undo the sale, because the California Public Utilities Commission is still reviewing the sale of Southern California Edison's majority 56 percent stake in the plant to AES.

Holden and Walters had argued last summer that during a time of electricity shortages throughout the state, it made little sense to sell off a power generating facility.

But DWP spokesman Josh Gertler said the sale of the DWP stake in the Mohave plant is not tied to the fate of Edison's stake. In fact, Gertler dismissed the entire press release as "way off base."

And, Gertler noted, had the DWP not sold off its stake, it would have been required to spend $75 million on environmental upgrades to the coal-fired plant, which environmentalists blame for casting frequent palls over the nearby Grand Canyon. Instead, Gertler said, the proceeds from the sale will be used to upgrade three DWP generating stations in the San Fernando Valley, so that they will produce more electricity more efficiently.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227 or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

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