WI: Bill Would Kill City Cable Channel

Posted on April 13, 2007 - 1:38pm.

from: Madison Commons

Bill Would Kill City Cable Channel
Susan Lampert Smith

It's just a guess, but in this government junkie town, I bet there are lots of people out there with a secret passion.

Admit it, you've stayed in to watch the City Council or the Board of Estimates or those rebroadcasts of the Madison Opera on the city cable channel.

Well, come out of the cable closet now, or say goodbye to your late-night local government fix.

The cable bill, which is streaking a greased track through the Legislature, will, in its current form, kill city government and cable access channels across Wisconsin. It'll also get rid of Brad Clark. He's the nice Madison official you can call when you're mad at Charter; he'll help straighten out your bill. The bill might also increase your property taxes to make up for lost cable "franchise fees."

Why haven't you heard about this?

Well, you have. You know those ads about how we need competition in the cable industry? Those ads that make you boil with "darn right!" indignation? Those ads are sponsored by a group called "TV for Us," which is really sponsored by AT&T and other cable interests, which wants to be your new cable company.

Well, those ads tell you part of what's in AB 207 and SB 107.

And what they're telling you sounds pretty good. Who doesn't hate the cable company? Who doesn't think it deserves a bit of competition? At least 30,000 of you, who have returned postcards urging legislators to pass those bills into law.

Political consultant Thad Nation, of TV for Us, says it's one of the easiest issues he's ever lobbied.

"Everyone's got a cable horror story," he said. "There was that whole debacle last fall when Charter didn't run the Packers-Vikings game. It was like manna from heaven. I ran a postcard (advertisement) with the Packers-Vikings logo."

OK, so hate the cable company.

But there are knowledgeable experts, such as Barry Orton, a UW-Madison telecommunications professor, who believe there are big-time problems with the entire bill. Orton says it isn't needed to increase competition (since we already have the satellite alternative) and it won't cut your bills over the long term.

"This isn't deregulation, it's un-regulation," Orton said. "I've never seen a law that gives regulation to an agency (the state Department of Financial Institutions) and then forbids the agency from regulating anything."

For sure, the bill will kill off cable access and government channels from Fitchburg to Dodgeville to Stevens Point unless there's some new language about maintaining support for these services.

The cable company actually doesn't pay them. You do, with a 62-cent fee on your monthly bill. Because it allows cable companies to bypass negotiating with cities in favor of state oversight, the bill will likely kill those fees that support municipal cable services, although authors of the bill could add that requirement to it.

City cable channels can't afford postcard campaigns or political consultants. But if you think maintaining city cable channels for their small but passionate audience is worth 62 cents a month, check out the information on the city of Madison's Web site and send a note to your elected state representatives.

Act now, or you may never again be able to cozy up with a quart of butter pecan and the Madison Water Utility public meeting.

Learn more, speak out If you want to learn more about the threat to Madison's city cable channel, check out the city's Web site at www.cityofmadison.com/ mcc12/PEGaccess.html.

If you want to send a card or letter on the issue, send it to Madison City Channel 12, Room 210, Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Blvd., Madison, WI 53701. Or e-mail citychannel@cityofmadison.com.
Posted on Madison Commons Friday, April 13, 2007

( categories: State Franchises | WISCONSIN )