The approval came despite a warning from the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the FCC may not have the legal authority to issue the new rules. In a letter dated Tuesday, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wrote, “It would be extremely inappropriate for the Federal Communications Commission to take action that would exceed the agency’s authority and usurp congressional prerogative to reform the cable television and local franchising process.” Critics have claimed there are no guarantees that competition from the phone companies will result in lower prices for consumers. They have also expressed concern that the new entrants may not offer service in lower-income areas. Joining Martin in approving the measure were fellow Republicans Deborah Taylor-Tate and Robert McDowell. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – A sharply divided Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along partisan lines Wednesday to impose measures meant to ensure that local governments do not block new competitors from entering the cable television market. The vote came on the same day that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin released a report on cable prices in 2004 that shows average cable rates rose by 5.2 percent. The report also shows that from 1995 through 2004, rates increased a total of 93 percent. Wednesday’s meeting was unusually rancorous as Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein challenged the FCC staff on the assertion that localities are blocking access and Martin departed from what is usually a carefully scripted meeting to defend the staff. The new rules approved by the commission will require local cable franchising authorities, such as city or county government, to act on applications from competitors with access to local rights of way within 90 days, and to act on applications from other new competitors within six months. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: John Jackson greets a Christmas that he wasn’t sure he’d seeLocal governments will be banned from forcing new competitors to build out new systems faster than the incumbent carrier, and they will be required to count some new carriers’ costs toward the 5 percent franchise fee. Adelstein and fellow Democrat Michael Copps harshly criticized the measures, questioning the agency’s evidence that there are barriers to entry by competitors. They also expressed concern over the loss of local control by franchise authorities and were unconvinced that the FCC has the legal authority to impose the new rules. The cable pricing survey, the first released in 22 months, showed that competition from direct broadcast satellite competitors like DirecTV has little if any effect on cable prices. In areas where there are wireline competitors, such as municipal cable providers and overbuilders like RCN Corp., rates were 17 percent lower. Kyle McSlarrow, president and chief executive of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, called the pricing survey obsolete because it failed to account for the favorable impact of bundling services on pricing and “the greatly increased value of cable services in a digital world.” Telecommunications companies Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. have been lobbying aggressively to make it easier to obtain local franchises as each company invests billions of dollars in its networks to deliver video programming.