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WI: Assembly to pass cable bill, try to up competition

By saveaccess
Created 05/08/2007 - 6:25am

from: The Badger Herald [1]

Assembly to pass cable bill, try to up competition

by Keegan Kyle
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The state Assembly is expected to pass its version of a bill tomorrow that aims to increase cable competition and reduce service rates across Wisconsin.

The bill would allow the Department of Financial Institutions to grant statewide revenue-sharing contracts with cable and other video service providers. Proponents say the streamlined service — currently managed by local municipalities — would lead to more competition.

The state Senate’s companion bill was delayed nearly two weeks when Democrats pushed it back to the Joint Finance Committee to analyze its financial impact. Some reports estimate the bill could cost state and local governments as much as $312,000.

At the request of the Joint Finance Committee, which is currently spending most of its time sifting through Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s state budget, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau is preparing an estimate of the bill’s financial impact.

Co-chairs Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, and Sen. Russ Decker, D-Weston, said the committee leaders have not met to discuss whether the bill will be addressed before or after the state budget, which takes effect July 1.

After passing the Assembly tomorrow, the multitude of video industry lobbyists will likely turn their eyes to the Joint Finance Committee. Opponents of the video franchise bill, largely representatives from local governments, may also turn their attention to the committee.

George Twigg, communications director for Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said the city opposed original versions of the bill but said it has improved through amendments. However, he also said the city still worries about the bill’s impact on funding public access channels.

“We’re still looking for some improvements there,” Twigg said. “It’s one of the biggest issues that hasn’t been resolved.”

In the Senate, legislators approved a three-year extension of access fees commonly placed on all cable subscribers to partially fund public access channels. Though every municipality varies, most public access channels use revenue-sharing agreements and access fees to support public access channels.

Twigg said the city believes changing the funding mechanism is a bad idea but will still work with legislators from both houses on the issue, even though the Assembly will probably pass its version tomorrow.

“Ultimately there will have to be some compromise between the two houses,” he said.

Once approved by the Joint Finance Committee, composed of eight Democrats and eight Republicans from both houses, the bill would go back to the Senate for further amending and a vote.

If passed, the Republican-controlled Assembly and the Democrat-controlled Senate would likely duke out their different versions in a conference committee. The compromise version would have to be passed by both houses.

Doyle has supported the legislation aiming to increase competition, but only if cable subscriber protection rights remain on the books.

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