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FL: Consumers Lose if State Takes Cable TV Control

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Created 04/17/2007 - 7:49am

from: Daytona Beach News Journal [1]

Consumers Lose if State Takes Cable TV Control

April 16, 2007
By Carl Laundrie

Under the battle cry of creating a more competitive market, state legislators are considering a bill that would transfer the regulation of cable TV franchise agreements from local government, to the state.

Several different bills and committee redrafts are floating around the halls of state government this session. Most of them are aimed at turning over to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the regulation of franchises for cable TV providers.

State legislators who have proposed the bills say they are attempting to clear up a jumbled mess of local franchise requirements to provide a uniform statewide franchise process. They claim that doing away with local control will open up cable service to bring in a more competitive market.

But here’s what’s at stake.

Phone companies, with powerful lobbyists, stand poised and ready to swoop into the Florida cable television market but don’t want to have to deal with 67 counties and more than 1,000 cities in the state that regulate cable television franchises.

Currently to offer cable TV service to an area, the provider is required to approach local government for what is called a non-exclusive franchise. Which means more than one cable provider can be approved for an area, but all of them must apply. Local governments impose regulations such as providing service to the entire area and not just lucrative customers.

Local governments also require government access channels for public, educational and governmental uses tailored specifically to the area served. In some cases local governments also require free service to public buildings. If service quality in an area is poor local government is the place for a resident to go to get it corrected.

The legislation being proposed would take away local governments’ bargaining power with cable companies. By 2009 customer service complaints would be sent to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Tallahassee. Public educational and government channels that exist currently would be continued but would be required to offer nonrepetitive local content and operate more than 10 hours a day. Requirements to serve all areas, not just the lucrative markets, would fall by the wayside.

In short, the winners of such legislation would be the telephone companies anxious to provide cable service. The single advantage to residents would be a more competitive, hence affordable cable service in prime neighborhoods where services are plentiful. The rest of the state’s population would be left to fend for itself or seek relief through the state.

If telephone companies want to deliver cable service, they should be required to negotiate with local governments exactly the same as existing cable companies have done since the inception of cable service. Telephone service companies already have enough market advantages. The state Legislature should not rush to provide more.

Laundrie is communications director for Flagler County.

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