WI: Cable officials, bill authors met in private

Posted on April 17, 2007 - 6:50am.

from: Madison.com

Cable officials, bill authors met

TUE., APR 17, 2007 - 12:57 AM
MARK PITSCH 608-252-6145

As legislative aides drafted a cable competition bill this year for Rep. Phil Montgomery, R- Ashwaubenon, officials from telecommunications giant AT&T and the state's cable providers got a chance to express their opinions about the measure in a private meeting while opponents didn't, according to state records and interviews.

"This shows that there was no level playing field in drafting that bill," said Rich Eggleston, communications and community outreach coordinator for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities. "All the teams weren't even on the field. Local government wasn't on the field. Consumers weren't on the field. The folks who are concerned about public access to government meetings, to the workings of government, weren't on the field."

Tom Moore, executive director of the Wisconsin Cable Communications Association, said he doesn't recall exactly what was discussed between the aides and industry officials at the Feb. 20 meeting. But he said he was able to share his thoughts about the bill while it was being drafted.

"I'm telling anyone I can get to listen what I think is best for our customers and what is best for our industry," Moore said.

• Bill at a glance

AB 207 is designed to provide uniform regulation of video- service providers at the state level.

Currently, cable companies and other providers like AT&T must negotiate separate franchises with each community in which they serve. AT&T favors statewide franchising over negotiating with each community, and Moore said the cable operators approve of statewide franchising so long as all video providers operate under the same rules.

But bill opponents say it would reduce revenues to local communities, kill off public- access channels and gut state protections for consumers.

Adam Raschka, an aide to Montgomery, said a revised bill will be introduced today. Lawmakers will also offer amendments that would restore consumer protections and make it easier to operate public-access channels under the bill, he said.

The Assembly Energy and Utilities Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill today.

The bill has been a major priority of AT&T and the cable companies.

Their representatives had a private meeting with Raschka and two state employees involved in drafting the cable competition bill: Mark Kunkel, a lawyer for the Legislative Reference Bureau who wrote the bill, and John Stolzenberg of the Legislative Council, who is a staff aide to the utilities committee, according to a memo written by Kunkel.

The Feb. 20 meeting included James Barrett, senior counsel for AT&T Wisconsin, Buddy Julius, AT&T's government affairs director, Moore, and Tara Corvo, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the cable association.

Julius and Corvo didn't return phone messages. Barrett said he couldn't comment on the meeting and referred questions to an AT&T spokesman, who also said he couldn't comment on the meeting.

Moore said he didn't think the cable companies or AT&T received special treatment by being given the opportunity to weigh in on the bill before it was made public.

Stolzenberg declined to comment on the meeting, but said it was not unusual for legislative aides to meet with interested parties during the bill drafting process.

Kunkel also said that's not unusual. He said typically he and other legislative aides who write bills will meet with lobbyists and others at the request of lawmakers.

In addition to the face-to- face meeting, Kunkel said he recalled two telephone conference calls with cable and AT&T officials during the bill drafting process.

Raschka said he couldn't comment on the meeting without seeing the memo. And he didn't respond to requests for comment after a reporter sent him a copy of the memo via fascimile.

Eggleston and Mary Cardona, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of PEG (Public Education and Government) Channels, said they weren't asked to meet with legislative aides drafting the video competition bill.

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