WI: Editorial: Competition for cable

Posted on December 27, 2007 - 8:30am.

from: Journal Sentinal

Editorial: Competition for cable

A bill signed by Gov. Jim Doyle opens the state for increased competition in video services, which will help consumers if rule-making doesn't needlessly slow the process down.
From the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Dec. 26, 2007

Wisconsin residents should see the value of increased competition for video services now that cable television's hammerlock is about to be pried loose.

Buy a link here

But will the start of competition be slowed by a series of vetoes issued by Gov. Jim Doyle last week as he signed the video franchise bill into law? It would be a shame if that's the case.

The legislation Doyle signed will create statewide video franchises, ending a cumbersome process dating to the 1970s that forced would-be competitors to cable to traipse from community to community to negotiate separate deals. Municipal franchises will be phased out.

Opponents claimed the bill was a sweetheart deal for AT&T, which is rolling out its U-verse service in parts of Wisconsin and which spent big bucks lobbying to secure passage of the measure. AT&T will benefit, but consumers benefit the most.

Competition should soften the blow of price hikes and give customers more options and value. Nationwide, cable television prices shot up 93% in the decade ending in 2005 but have moderated in recent months as telephone companies pushed into the business.

Municipalities will receive 5% of revenue under the law but will lose an additional cut that most of them had negotiated for public-access programming. Through the use of his veto power, Doyle made a change to allow public, educational and government channels to air commercial programming, including advertising and infomercials. In his veto message, Doyle suggested that the Legislature may want to revisit this issue. But we always felt that municipalities can get by with a 5% fee, which, of course, is passed along to consumers.

Other Doyle changes would allow franchises to expire, accelerate service to low-income households, require that service interruptions of four hours in a single day result in credits to consumers and allow municipalities to recoup costs from the use of public rights-of-way by video companies. All reasonable changes.

Consumers should be wary, though, of another veto that will allow two state agencies to write rules to enforce the law. That's all well and good as long as rule-making doesn't needlessly slow down the process of issuing franchises. Doyle should urge the state Department of Financial Institutions and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to move expeditiously.

State Rep. Phil Montgomery

(R-Ashwaubenon) and state Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) deserve credit for winning a fractious battle for this new law. Renewing the same fight in the regulatory agencies would be pointless.

( categories: AT&T | State Franchises | WISCONSIN )