Cable TV Legislation A Travesty

June 12, 2006
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It’s about independence. It’s about choices. And it’s always about money.

Grand Rapids Business Journal has over the past year reported on movement of the Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act, and more recently similar legislation in both houses of the Michigan legislature. Last August U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers’ staff said the Congressman had no analysis or comment because “the bill may never come out of committee.” And now it has.

Lobbyists in the telecom industry have pushed hard and paid well for this opportunity, citing “immense hurdles” in the current system for those companies to enter the video cable market, and ostensibly offering more choices — certainly for the telecom companies anyway. But the legislation takes choices away from local municipalities, consumers, and business and nonprofit users, giving all control to the Federal Communications Commission, which would issue “standard franchises” without regard for local preferences. One cannot imagine that the preferences of GR are similar to those in LA. Other highlights for purposes here:

*The act eliminates the right of cities and townships to negotiate cable television franchise agreements.

*It does not require that new or existing providers offer service to every resident of a community (hence the very real concern of out-state or more rural businesses — many of those being “new economy” businesses — that such areas are not populated or therefore profitable enough to even receive service)

*It eliminates the “public service” requirements for broadcast, which would impact hundreds of nonprofit businesses, especially since repeal of the fairness doctrine allowing commercial broadcasters to eliminate or cut back on public service announcements.

*It means the loss of public, education and government channels.

*National studies showing severe negative impact in minority communities.

The federal legislation eliminates local control and local initiatives. And state legislation is all the worse. The state House Committee on Energy and Technology held a hearing to determine impacts and concerns but local leaders — all of them — left the hearing astonished that “some members (of the House committee) were derogatory to local government,” that those concerns “fell on deaf ears” but were receptive to telecom representatives. House and Senate versions of the bill both usurp local control for a state plan, and take over control of local rights-of-way.

Further, the state legislation proposes a type of “cable revenue-sharing plan.” Based on the state’s current theft of local dollars from state revenue sharing, that is a very bad joke. It may be funny in back rooms at the state Capitol, but constituents aren’t laughing.

Even those in Michigan’s more rural areas have access to a voting booth.    

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