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WI: AT$T Claims Wide Support for Cable Bill

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Created 05/09/2007 - 8:18am

Note: TV4US is an astroturf organization paid for by AT&T.

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AT&T Claims Wide Support for Cable Bill

From Capital Times, May 8, 2007
By David Callender

All 132 state lawmakers have received a thick binder full of the names of constituents backing a bill to deregulate the state’s cable TV franchise system, the latest move in a high-stakes effort by telecommunications giant AT&T to win swift legislative approval of the measure.

“AT&T is really pulling out all the stops,” said Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, as he leafed through his three-inch-thick volume on Monday. “This is a very polished presentation.”

The binders went out late last week as “a way of making sure that lawmakers understand that this is not just a priority from some faceless corporation,” said Thad Nation, executive director of TV4US, a coalition of groups led by AT&T that are pushing for the bill. “There are real constituents who support it.”

Each page of the binder contains the name and address of a constituent who either signed a postcard or called a toll-free number in support of the bill. TV4US is advertising heavily in newspapers and on radio and TV stations across the state.

The pages read, “Consumers across Wisconsin are demanding an end to the cable monopoly and want choices in the video market. Your constituent, listed below, supports bringing real alternatives to cable in Wisconsin.”

The message also argues that “every day that Wisconsin families are denied a real choice to cable TV, they are forced to pay an extra 28 to 42 percent for cable. Please work to bring real choice to Wisconsin. Please oppose any efforts that would make us wait longer for relief from skyrocketing cable bills.”

The bill is scheduled for approval by the Republican-controlled Assembly on Wednesday. The bill faces a more uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which has referred the bill to the powerful Joint Finance Committee for additional work.

Hebl has been one of the Legislature’s most outspoken critics of the bill, which would eliminate most local regulation of cable TV franchises in favor of minimal supervision by state agencies. While the bill would open the way for competition in some areas of the state where AT&T operates, other portions, particularly rural areas, would continue to see cable monopolies. AT&T is currently the only broadband operator to offer video service.

Hebl says he wants more protections for consumers and better state oversight of so-called video service providers, which would include both those who provide video via broadband as well as traditional cable TV companies.

“From the consumers’ perspective, this looks great. But it’s a Pandora’s box when you look at it more closely,” he says.

Hebl says AT&T has been pushing for fast-track approval of the bill, hiring a team of 16 lobbyists, including state Democratic Party chairman Joe Wineke.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, where I’ve been negotiating (amendments) to a bill with the lobbyists instead of the sponsors,” Hebl said.

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