Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cable Franchise Bill in Senate Commerce Tomorrow

HB 699, the state-wide cable franchise bill, will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Commerce Committee tomorrow at 9:30.

It's bad law and deserves to be voted down there. Concerned citizens can still contact the members of the committee; the commerce committee maintains a page providing links to the members' data.

At the most basic level it's bad because it takes local control and local sovereignty and transfers it to the state level because it would be more convenient (that is, more profitable) to a single large corporation if local governments could be neutered. Local control threatens the size of BellSouth's profits because local people normally require BellSouth/AT&T to offer cable TV services to everyone in exchange for renting the community rights-of-way to the corporation. BellSouth feels like it would make more money if it could only offer it's service to the wealthiest neighborhoods--and, not coincidentally, they could at the same time stick Cable with the more expensive-to-serve customers. So they go to the state legislature to enhance their bottom line.

Enhancing BellSouth's (soon to be AT&T) profits is not the legislature's job.

And it's certainly not the legislature's job to pass laws that impoverish local communities. But that is exactly what the legislature is considering according to local government organizations across the state. They say that, contrary to what BellSouth/AT&T lobbyists are claiming, BellSouth's bill leaves a loophole for the company to escape paying any fees to local governments. That would leave a gaping hole in many communities' income.

The bill has already passed through the house. Tomorrow's hearing in the Senate Commerce Committe will be one of the last chances to stop it before it becomes law. Contacting the committee members could make a real difference. It also wouldn't hurt to copy Kathleen Blanco with your concerns. Just in case it ends up on her desk.

(To watch the show, follow the link on the Legislature's front page that will go live a few minutes after 9:30)

7 comments:

GumboFilé said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GumboFilé said...

I'm starting to wonder if you're more concerned with the local politicians getting their cut than you are for consumers getting the best deal.

David in Grand Coteau

Shad Price said...

In my opinion, it's a good way to make sure that everyone who wants next-gen broadband has the chance to get next-gen broadband if they want it.

It would protect those who live in poorer neighborhoods, or those who are at a low income level. A computer with a broadband connection can be a powerful tool for a disadvanteged person to have and it may just help to get some out of low income status, if they have the ability and the determination to make it happen.

John said...

Hi David,

There's a part of me that worries when folks move past the point of a post to find a peripheral issue to address--especially when the central issue is not dealt with.

Is what the legislature is considering good for communities? Does it constitute a major taking of local property rights? Should the state be restraining local governments from entering into otherwise legal contracts over the use of its own property because a corporation doesn't like the way those contracts effect their bottom line?

I think those are the real problems here and really wonder how people understand the state's meddling into this.

But misdirection that I worry it is, there is a real question in your concern for "consumers" and I'll try to address that while hoping you address my concerns.

In truth, my concern not for "consumers" but for communities and people. Consumers are some abstract thing invented by the "dismal science" that pretends that people can be usefully understood solely as economic actors. I don't think that assumption holds; especially not in this case.

In the case of this anti-local franchise bill local governments are being locked out of control of property they own and maintain (that WE own and maintain) to serve the interests of a single huge corporate entity. Taken to its logical extreme it will result in a 25% drop in the income of local government as everyone stops paying for the use of our land. (If you don't believe Cox won't be down to the legislature next week asking for "a level playing field" next week you haven't been watching this game closely enough--Wow..As I was finishing drafting this I got a call that says that cable is now included in the current bill via amendment. I'm insufficiently cynical.)

BellSouth/AT&T are not interested in either speedy franchises or the money and services paid out in franchise fees and obligations. In every case they've demonstrated a willingness to compromise on those sorts of issues (or appear to). They're not trying to hold down consumer costs in that way.

What they are absolutely unmovable on are the "build-out" requirements--local governments require in franchise contracts that companies that use their rights of way serve all and that they charge the same for services wherever offered. The phone companies want to serve River Ranch. They are NOT interested in serving poor or sparsely settled neighborhoods. That's not something I am inferring from their actions--it's something that is their official policy, announced by their CEO, and promised to investors.

My guess as to why you call on "consumers" is because you believe that "competition" will drive prices down. I believe that too--and is a big part of why I backed LUS during the fiber fight. But I would NOT have backed LUS if they had promised to bring fiber only to the wealthiest half of the community as AT&T now does.

Competition that is restricted to the wealthiest consumers doesn't qualify as real competition in my book. It's more fairly understood as redlining.

Raphy said...

I agree, Shad Price. The Bells have a long history of lying and redlining and are clearly interested in nothing more than maximizing profits. That's capitalism, fine, but everyone should be mindful of this and the Bellls should continue to go through local governments instead of the states. Ultimately, minorities will be left behind and the chasm between the rich and poor will continue to grow.

Furthermore, the Bells were broken up because they were too big for the consumer's best insterest, but now they're re-monopolizing, control phone lines in 21 states (about half the country's population), etc., etc. Public utilities have the authority to review mergers, but haven't done anything. Free Press has already collected 10,000 signatures to be sent to the FCC, opposing the mergers; hopefully some of this outrage spills over to the public utilities.

Anonymous said...

While I to am not a supporter of this state wide franchise, the problem is that what happens in Lafayette without it. When LUS is in the retail business of selling TV programming, why on earth would they want to encourage competition through the use of its rights of ways to its competitors? The answer is they will not. No more then they encourage competition on electricity. Like all business, they will discourange competition, overtly or otherwise. It will not matter if they are democrates or republicans, for bell south or against bell south, good or evil. They will naturally try to increase the cities revenue to create funding of their projects and delivery of patronage to their districts so that they get reelected. Thats the results of a natural monoply. Look at Lafayette and LUS now, LUS is a monoply, natural or otherwise. If a neighborhhood wants to be incorporated into Lafayette they must accept LUS as the only provider. In other cities you have choice, but not here.

Now, look at the news posted today on this web site. A case is brought before the courts and LPUA on LUS overcharging for electric rates. The case is heard by LPUA, the very group who set the rates. Now does that make any sense? And what does LPUA rule:
# Deny plaintiffs’ request for a continuance of this morning’s hearing.
# Deny a motion to produce documents requested by plaintiffs.
# Deny plaintiffs request to subpoena people.
# Deny oppositions to rules adopted last week for conducting this morning’s hearing.
Have you ever seen the movie CATCH 22?
I hope that is not your idea of justice and due process. If it is, than I am saddened.


Tim

Anonymous said...

Tim, just as an fyi, Catch 22 was a book by Joseph Heller that was later made into a movie.