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WI: Cable TV bill appears headed for passage

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Created 04/24/2007 - 7:59pm

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Cable TV bill appears headed for passage
But vote will be postponed for fiscal impact study

Judith Davidoff
The Capital Times

Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, says there would be enough votes in the Senate to pass a controversial cable bill today, but she is going to postpone a vote until questions about its fiscal impact are resolved.

"She feels it's come a long way over the last few weeks in terms of consumer protections," said Robson aide Josh Wescott this morning. But those protections mean more cost to the state agencies charged with overseeing the law, and the full cost needs to be determined, he added.

"Once we figure that out, we're ready to roll here," said Wescott, who noted Robson would refer the bill today to the Joint Finance Committee for review.

That development created uncertainty this morning for the Republican-controlled Assembly, which was also expected to take up the bill today.

Bob Delaporte, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, said the Assembly could still take action on the bill, but Assembly leaders would be discussing their options this morning.

"Anything could happen," Delaporte said.

The Joint Finance Committee is set to start deliberations on Gov. Jim Doyle's budget Thursday, but Wescott said Robson hoped to have the bill back by mid-May.

Wescott denied the move was intended to delay the bill, which has been on a fast track since the bill's Assembly author, Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, introduced it last month.

"It's a real part of the process," he said. "We want to make sure we're not cutting any corners."

The cost for the state to review and issue video franchises and handle consumer complaints was originally estimated at $500,000. But some say that cost could double due to the consumer protections that have been added to the bill.

Montgomery did not return a phone call this morning for comment. Mark Anderson, a spokesman for bill co-sponsor Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, said the senator didn't have any comment at the moment.

"We don't really know anything now," Anderson said. "It's up in the air right now."

The video franchising bill has been pushed by supporters as a way to increase competition and bring down cable television costs. But critics say the bill takes control away from local governments, which have been granting cable franchises for decades, and, in the process, strips localities of franchise fees that mostly support public access channels.

Under the bill, the state would assume oversight of video franchises. The Department of Financial Institutions would be charged with issuing permanent franchises to qualified companies and consumer protections would be extended to satellite providers.

Protections for consumers would include credits for outages that last 24 hours or longer, a 30-day notice of rate increases, a 45-day grace period before disconnection due to unpaid bills and a 72-hour window for repairs.
Published: April 24, 2007

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