Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Cable TV franchise revision advances"

Today's Advocate covered yesterday's House Commerce Committee proceedings and the editor even ran the story on the front page. That showed good judgment. The bill is actually much more than most of the "issues" that the legislature spends its time on and the press spills ink on. Unhappily the difference this bill will make will be mostly for the worst.

The gist:
A House committee fought off efforts Tuesday to regulate cable television, then approved Senate-passed legislation that would allow companies to get a statewide franchise to offer cable television service....The legislation would allow companies to seek a statewide franchise, rather than negotiate with each individual municipality and parish....Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed similar legislation last year [actually two years ago-John] after local governments voiced concerns that there would be a negative impact for them....State Rep. Chris Roy Jr., D-Alexandria, said the legislation specifically does not require companies to build into rural areas or into low-income neighborhoods.
It's a mess. What is going to happen here is what happened in North Carolina when they passed such a law. There AT&T hoodwinked the legislature with promises that it would spend huge amounts of money upgrading the state's network and would use the upgrade enter into aggressive competition with the cable companies (chiefly Time-Warner). In fact, they were so eager that they just couldn't be bothered to actually negotiate with the owners of the land they needed to use: the local government's rights of way. So the NC legislature gave the corporation "reform" and two years later....well, AT&T hasn't applied for a single state franchise but Time-Warner and the cablecos have submitted 118 franchises--all of which allowed them to exit significant local responsibilities by revoking previous contracts with local communities. Exactly 1—1!—small new competitor in only 1 locale has provided "new competition" since the law was passed. (We've done better than that here in Lousisiana without such a brown nosing law.) The local governments there have lost services, and cash income—income that the citizens will doubtless be asked to replace.

It is simply bad policy to turn control of local property over to some faceless out of state corporation. North Carolina is now trying to patch up a badly flawed law. They shouldn't bother; admit the mistake and repeal the thing.

I actually spent time yesterday watching the video stream from the house hearing. Sad... In my judgment neither the pro nor the con sides presented their strongest case. The pro side didn't need to and knew it. But it was disconcerting to see the people's representatives from around the state flounder and fail to make what should have been a compelling case. (The best speaker by far was a consultant from Shreveport—not a representative of the municipalities and the parishes whose ox is being gored.)

But even more distressing were the raw political facts of the matter. The legislators on the panel exhibited a truly piteous picture of asking, again and again, if AT&T was actually going to use the law to build out to poorer urban areas and rural places. Again and again AT&T said... "No promises." Just that the chance that some rural folks would get served would be better. Frankly anyone that has watched this issue nationally and read the corporations' own promises to their shareholders knows that AT&T is planning, at most, over the long run, to serve about 50% of those it has a phone line to today. The "high value" customer. Poor thinly settled rural areas of one of the poorest states in the union? It ain't a gonna happen. One speaker quoted what he said was a common response to such facts; legislators are reported to have said: "False hope is better than no hope." That is simply not true. False hope is misleading. And hoping that AT&T will go into rural areas when there is less chance it will here than in North Carolina is just a way to mislead the public—and to delay taking real steps to fix the problem. The legislators also noted that half of the state's population—the state's largest cities—would not be included in this bill at all. AT&T's only even tentative commitment was when they said they'd start in Baton Rouge (sometime) and Baton Rouge is a place where they, in fact quickly got a local franchise and to which this bill will not apply. They wouldn't make another commitment or even a guess about any other place.

And STILL the legislators line up to change the laws and hand over control of local rights of way to the Lords of the Network on the off chance that some day they'd deign to help out folks outside of the large cities (which this bill, they understood, did nothing to help). The lined up to genuflect even after their questions showed they understood that the likelihood that their law would actually help the state was small to none. They lined up to help even though AT&T said it was a law they wanted to make things convenient for them to do business. They lined up even when they understood that the new law would mean the end of requiring all the people—not just the most profitable households—be offered the new technology. They lined up to help the massa even after the representatives of the state's governments that are closest to the people, the Louisiana Municipal Association and the Police Juries, stood shoulder to shoulder and vehemently opposed the bill.

When, in Louisiana, you get both the urban Louisiana Municipal Association AND the rural police jury association lined up in vehement opposition and threatening to mount a constitutional challenge if they are ignored and the committee STILL reports it out without opposition or even change you know that the actual representatives of the people don't matter anymore at all: only the convenience of corporations.

There ought to be some sort of grieving process we can go through when something this blatant reveals the true allegiance of our government. I'm beyond embarrassment and well into shame.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is North Carolina the only state that has this?

Just curious since that is the only example given.

John said...

Curious,

No, there are, I think, 19 states that have some version. The telecos pushed hard in the states after failing to get a federal version thtrough. In earlier posts I've cited a number of the state measures. (Try the "State Video Franchise" label.)

North Carolina passed its law the same year that Blanco vetoed Louisiana's first version and I've paid attention to its experience because of that and the rough parallel to Louisiana in size/ region/ coastal /rural-urban/ demographics. I think the big corps are actually less likely to roll out in Louisiana than in NC.