The bill, proposed by Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, would make the state the only franchising authority for cable television service. No longer would cable television providers be tied to contracts with individual municipalities. And no longer would individual municipalities be tied to one cable company.
Griesheimer said the bill would increase competition among video programming providers -- such as Mediacom, AT&T and Comcast - and thus potentially lower programming costs for Missouri residents.
A similar bill, however, stalled in the Senate last year in a three way battle with AT&T that was seeking to avoid local franchise requirements for its digital video services, cable companies tied to franchise agreements and municipalities.
"This issue is to allow competition in your community," Griesheimer said. "It gives your constituents a choice."
In January, the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association reached an agreement with AT&T concerning the state-issued cable television franchises. As part of the compromise agreement now before the Senate, a cable company could walk away from franchise contracts with local communities and seek a statewide franchise.
Local communities, however, still would be guaranteed up to three public-access channels and tax revenue.
The agreement paved the way for a possible statewide franchise to replace local contracts.
If the General Assembly approves the bill, cable television providers would be free from customer service requirements from either the state or the Public Service Commission. Under the bill, no competing television service providers would be subject to customer service requirements.
"I'm struggling with how this bill...even helps the constituents of my area," said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville.
Although most senators supported a state-issued franchise -- saying the bill would encourage cable companies to invest in new infrastructure and technologies -- some senators disagreed on the bill's finer points.
One point of contention concerns the bill's provision that would allow cable providers to opt out of their current contracts with local governments in favor of a statewide franchise.
"We're talking obliterating those 534 contracts, those promises," said Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County.
If companies don't opt out, they must apply for a state franchise after their contact expires. Municipalities, however, will still be able to collect a provider fee of up to 5 percent of the company's gross revenue in the municipality.
Tuesday's debate focused on a legal issue of whether to force the courts to throw out the entire compromise package if any one part is found to be in violation of the constitution. In question is the bill's provision effectively negating contracts between cities and cable companies.
Other senators, however, said Tuesday's debate missed the point.
Sen. Matt Bartle, D-Jackson County, said he was concerned that the people senators have been discussing the bill with "are the people in dark suits."
Bartle said legislators must focus on how a state-issued cable television service could affect Missouri residents.
"I think the purpose is to provide consumers with a choice," Bartle said. "The primary objective is to get another participant into the marketplace as quickly as possible."