Published on Save Access (

WI: Cable Bill Better, but Still Incomplete

By saveaccess
Created 05/15/2007 - 9:06pm

from: Appleton Post-Crescent [1]

New Wisconsin Cable Bill Better, but Still Incomplete

May 15, 2007

AT&T has been pushing the Video Competition Act aggressively in Wisconsin, and a cynic would note that if it was as great as they say it is, it wouldn’t need the hard sell.

However, the telecommunications giant and the lawmakers behind the proposal are to be commended for at least listening to early criticism of the package and responding.

The initial version of the legislation — which would move cable franchising out of the hands of local municipalities and put it under state supervision — left consumers out in the cold.

It would have eliminated customers’ rights to have service repaired within 72 hours, credit for service interruptions of four hours or more and and didn’t require notice about rate increases 30 days in advance.

Those concerns have been addressed in the updated legislation.

However, a continuing flaw with the proposal is its lack of a cost estimate to the state, and the $2,000 licensing fee payable to the Department of Financial Institutions isn’t going to cover the increased costs of regulating an industry.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection estimated it will need to hire five workers just to handle consumer complaints, and that was before satellite digital systems were added to the list of services covered by the bill.

The DFI will need to hire workers to review applications for franchises; the agency notes Texas received 90 applications in 18 months after similar legislation passed there. A University of Wisconsin telecommunications professor who opposes the bill estimates the regulatory costs of the bill to be more than $1 million annually.

Lawmakers have already demonstrated their flexibility on the issue by beefing up consumer protection in the Video Competition Act. Now they need to come up with a dollar figure that Wiscosinites can use to determine if this is tax money well-spent.

For a state with a hole in its budget, legislation with an empty price tag is a bad idea. Either the Legislature gets a handle on what the bill will cost and how to pay for it, or it should hit the brakes right now, no matter how hard AT&T pushes.

Source URL: