Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hey Legislator: State Video Doesn't Work!

It's considered wise to learn from the experience of others.

Sadly, State Legislators—or at least our state legislators—fail to follow that simple maxim. If they did Louisiana would not be even considering state legislation yanking local communities' ability to manage their own rights of way down roads and drainage as the community sees fit. Instead the state is about to pass laws shifting that power to the state legislature and and their "plan" is to then hand that control over to the corporations that are lobbying for the change.

They call it "Consumer Choice for Television Act" and that is a serious misnomer. The name is supposed to indicate that the law will encourage AT&T to offer competition to the cable companies. That is what AT&T, who wrote the thing, says it will do. Some of the legislators voting for it (though you can bet none of those who sponsored it) might even think that is more or less true. But based on the evidence it will not.

That's what they've found out in North Carolina. The story there tells the results of a similar law in North Carolina, Video Services Choice Act. North Carolina, like Louisiana is a smaller, southern, rural state that has been trying to upgrade its image and technological prowess. I'd argue that it has been considerably more successful. Even so the demographics aren't all that different from Louisiana. A major city or two, a handful of second-tier cities (among which are the more progressive) and a large rural population. It's a good state to compare to Louisiana.

And North Carolina passed a law like this two years ago—at the time when a similar law was (wisely) vetoed by then-governor Blanco. Here's what the article says about the success of that law in North Carolina.
When state legislators passed the Video Services Choice Act (VSCA) two years ago, their goal was to increase competition....One of the few things legislators asked of those companies was to keep setting aside space for public access, education and government channels....

But laws often have unintended consequences, while their intended consequences can fail to materialize.

In fact, nearly 18 months after the VSCA was enacted, neither AT&T nor Verizon has submitted a single application to provide video service in North Carolina. Of the 118 new state franchises, almost all were submitted by Time Warner; only two new providers have entered the market; and only one service area has any competition.

Meanwhile, many PEG channels have seen their funding evaporate under the new law.

Here is what the experience of North Carolina should teach our legislature:
  1. Two years after AT&T got the law it sought to "bring competition" it has not brought any competition to that state or to the incumbent cable company.
  2. The dominant cable company and target of hoped-for competition, Time Warner, was in fact the real beneficiary of AT&T's law and used it get out of contractual obligations to local communities in most of the 118 state franchises actually issued.
  3. The law has had real negative effects: The state legislature's attempt to protect local interests in PEG channels like Lafayette's Acadiana Open Channel (AOC) failed. Had local control been maintained that would not have been a problem.
In short: In North Carolina this law has completely failed to bring AT&T into quick competition with Time Warner in the two years since it was enacted. In truth all it has done is to allow Time Warner to escape its local responsibilities.

State video "reform" is nothing of the sort.

No comments: