It pretty much continues what I feel is a mischaracterization of the immediate battle (as I said in response to an earlier story) in that it pitches the battle as one between BellSouth and Cox. But it is the local communities' ox who is getting gored as the state usurps local property rights in order to give BellSouth/AT&T what it most desires: freedom from the obligation to serve the whole community in return for using the rights-of-way that are owned by the people. Hill does not, in fact, repeat any of the arguments of the Louisiana Municipal Association or the Police Juries--both of whom emphasized local control and the injustice of forbidding local municipalities to continue their practice of requiring the whole community be served.
Similarly absent was mention of amendments offered by the local governments which would have given BellSouth/AT&T what they claimed they wanted: fast, hassle-free granting of a franchise and a "level playing field." The local's solution: they'd back a law gauranteeing a 60 day turn around with no negotiations and a mere exchange of two letters if BellSouth would adopt the same franchise so arduously negotiated with the cable companies. What could be more fair? BellSouth, however, was uninterested--but the committee was not. The suggestions were made an amendments by Rep. Frist and quickly gained healthy support even though most of the members had not see them prior to the hearing: it went down by a vote of only 11 to 7 and the chair, Pinac, and the bill's sponsor were both clearly upset by how quickly the alternative gained support. A little more thorough preparation by local government might well have killed the bill then and and there.
The story closes with a few inaccuracies. It says:
Mike Stagg of Lafayette, an independent information technology consultant, said BellSouth, which will merge with AT&T in six months, warned that there could be a loss of franchise fees to local governments.
In amendments adopted by the committee, Bell agreed to pay local governments the same rate of franchise fees that are now being paid by cable operators under their franchise agreements.
In fact Mike, in the fieriest testimony of the day did not say that "there could be a loss of franchise fees." He said there would be. More emphatically he said that local governments would never see a penny from AT&T since AT&T is emphatic that its service is not a cable service and is not franchiseable under Federal law and regulation. The key definition here is the definition of a cable service as being "one-way" in federal regulations. In John Hill's own recent story BellSouth representatives are emphatic that their IPTV service is "two-way." Softening this claim most likely means that Hill has been talking to BellSouth/AT&T or simply can't believe such an outrageous bait and switch can be underway. He'd be well served to google up AT&T's recent lawsuits --in the last couple of weeks!--in California and in Illinois where they are claiming exemptions from franchises on EXACTLY the basis that their service is not "one-way" and not a cable service but an information service. The characterization of their service as not like a cable service because it is "two-way" was made most recently in Hill's previous story on the issue.
Lagniappe: Just keeping score: Representative Trahan of Lafayette voted with BellSouth on this bill. Trahan has been a bit of a weak reed on the Lafayette delegation in regards to telecom issues since they first started to blow up and this issue was no exception. This bill will damage his constituents should it pass. Some representatives will be able to claim ignorance when this law sucks revenue out of local communities but any Lafayette rep should have been attending closely enough to what has happened in the city to understand that BellSouth's motives are questionable.