Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ALERT: Call or Email Your Legislators

Please begin the process of defending Louisina's local communities by calling or emailing your legislators with your objections to the "Consumer Choice Television Act." It is lousy law intended to benefit a single large, out-of-state corporation whose burden falls especially hard on Lafayette and small communities across the state. This will be a long fight in our legislature with the opening shot fired tomorrow during the Senate Commerce committee's initial hearing.

The Story:
The Louisiana Legislature is about to make a mistake....one the state avoided in 2006 when a smilar law was rejected a law that was also supposed to promote cable competition. That year a similar bill became law in North Carolina. The effects have been disastrous.

Back in '06 BellSouth, already in the midst of being sold to AT&T, lobbied hard for a bill that would have moved control of the rights-of-way that belong to local communities to the Louisiana legislature. AT&T told legislators that they were so eager to bring competition to the cable industry that they needed the legislators in Baton Rouge to relieve them of the "burden" of negotiating contracts with local communities to use the public's property for their new business. They assured the legislators that their law would would not hurt customers or communities but would instead provide wholesome competition.

That year the law was turned back in Louisiana. But succeeded in North Carolina. The Tar Heel's experience tells us that North Carolina did NOT get more competition. Two years later AT&T has still not applied for a single state-wide video franchise. Just as in Louisiana, prices continue to rise and no new cable service was deployed by the phone companies in rural parishes. But it did make a difference in NC--just not the difference AT&T lobbyists told legislatures it would make. Though AT&T did not use their law to get into the cable business the cable companies used them to get out of their contracts with local communities--117 at last count had switched to the state franchise that was more "generous" with the rental of local communities' land.

The state collected only 62% of the rental that corporations had formerly paid local governments for the use of public land. That shortfall in revenue had to be made up locally. In spite of lobbyist promises PEG channels (like Acadiana Open Channel) were no longer fully supported. Without a local contract citizens with a complaint were told they should talk to the secretary of state--or sue some of the nation's largest corporations.

Lafayette is the largest city in the state of Louisiana that will be effected by this law. New Orlean's, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Shreveport, and Lake Charles will all retain their rights to control their own property. Only the smallest communities — and Lafayette — are being asked to take this risk to placate a corporation which, frankly, does not need give-aways from the state of Louisiana to profitably conduct its business.

North Carolina's legislature got taken and the customers and communities of the state bore the brunt of that mistake. Please spend a moment to encourage your senators and representatives not to follow in that path. The first hearing (but not the last!) on this bill is scheduled for tomorrow. A quick phone call to the office to leave a message or an email to your legislator will let them know the public is waking to the problem.


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How To:
Your most effective contacts are always your own legislators. They represent YOU and generally do listen to constituent voices.

To find your legislator, email, and phone number jump to the legislative search page; enter your address and use the resulting links to jump to your Louisiana House and Senate representatives.

Also:
Consider letting the senators and house members who will recommend or not recommend this bill to their colleagues know your opinion of this legislation.

The Senate Commerce Committee’s members are – Sens. Duplessis (chair), Crowe (vice chair), Alario, Nick Gautreaux, Marionneaux, Michot, (Lafayette) and Scalise. The Senate switchboard is (225) 342-2040.

The House Commerce Committee
Arnold, Jeffery "Jeff" J. Chairman
Waddell, Wayne Vice Chair
Badon, Bobby G. Lafayette Member
Hardy, Rickey Lafayette Member

The interest of communities in Louisiana and the interest of huge telecommunications monopolies are not the same and our legislators should be encouraged to vote in their constituents interests, not the interests of a single company that would rather change the rules than play by them.

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