With telephone companies in the United States planning to spend billions on adding television and video services to their networks, the issue of regulation remains a key concern.

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, gave a hint at the Supercomm show in Chicago that a decision on the regulation of such services could be expected around the end of the year.

The question is whether the Commission will regulate internet protocol television as a data service or a cable television service. Cable television services have previously been franchised at a very local level, which could limit plans by companies such as Verizon and SBC to provide a new generation of interactive television services.

“I think the prospect of having additional competitors in the video business is important to facilitate, and not have local franchising agreements presenting a barrier,” the FCC chairman told delegates.

“I’m sympathetic to a lot of the concerns that have been raised when we talk about new entrants not being able to get into the video business without having to guarantee that they are going to have to serve everybody in a particular region before they are allowed to serve anyone,” he said.

Previously, the incoming FCC chairman had said in a statement that promoting the deployment of new packet-based networks will be one of the Commission’s core priorities.

“We should move forward to address the creation of a level-playing field for the provision of advanced services by similarly situated service providers,” he said “The removal of legacy regulations should spur investment and the deployment of new packetized networks and facilities that will bring new broadband services to all Americans throughout the nation.”

In a keynote speech, the chairman and chief executive of Verizon had spoken of the need to “keep our foot on the accelerator when it comes to broadband investment”. He said that since 2000 the company has spent $73 billion, more than its annual revenue, investing in its networks.

“We need to update the telecom laws for the 21st century, particularly those related to broadband services,” he told delegates. “We need to simplify and reform the franchising process that is acting as a barrier to video competition.”

It follows the failure to achieve a ruling in Texas, the home state of SBC Communications, to enable a state-wide franchise for video services.

However, SBC argues that their video offering is an internet service and not subject to local franchising requirements. The company is planning spend billions of dollars on its Project Lightspeed, rolling out services to reach 18 million households over the next couple of years.