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WI: New Coalition Attempts to Squash Controversial Cable Bill

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Created 07/13/2007 - 7:23am

from: Capital Times [1]

New Coalition Attempts to Squash Controversial Cable Bill in Wisconsin

From Capital Times, July 11, 2007
By Judith Davidoff

Saying consumers have been excluded from the debate, a new coalition announced efforts today to fight efforts by AT&T and state legislators to deregulate the cable television industry.

TeleTruth Wisconsin, comprised of individuals and such diverse groups as the League of Women Voters, Center for Media and Democracy, WISPIRG, Wisconsin Association of PEG Channels and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, held a news conference this morning to denounce video franchising legislation authored by Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay.

“This bill was written behind closed doors by national corporate interests,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters, in an interview. “The process by which it’s coming forward has not involved the public. It’s making a mockery of the democratic process.”

Kaminski also said the bill threatens the viability of public access television stations, which are extremely important public education tools.

“Anything that threatens to gut funding from a public forum such as public access channels we see as a threat to a citizen’s right to know,” she said.

Montgomery did not immediately return a call for comment this morning. But Senate co-sponsor Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, said in a news release that despite the “histrionic display” by members of the coalition at the press conference, the bill would bring “consumers better value, more options and improved service.”

Plale also said the bill is not the result of a “closed door process.”

“In fact, once I signed on to this bill I insisted that the concerns of municipalities and PEG channel advocates be heard,” he wrote.

The video franchise legislation would remove the regulatory power of local governments over cable franchises and move that function to a state agency. Supporters argue their bill would increase competition and lower rates for consumers, while opponents say it would leave cities with little control over their rights of way, and give customers little recourse for inadequate service.

Cynthia Laitman, a visiting professor of communications studies at Edgewood College, organized the new alliance. Laitman said she got interested in the issue after receiving a postcard from TV4US, a coalition of groups led by AT&T working to pass the legislation, which incorrectly indicated she was a supporter of the bill.

“I knew right away this was Astroturf at its sleaziest,” said Laitman, referring to a corporate-driven public relations campaign made to appear to have grass-roots support. “That made me very angry.”

Laitman wasn’t the first victim of such tactics. In May, The Capital Times first reported that two state lawmakers, Reps. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, and Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, were listed as supporters of the bill in packets TV4US delivered to legislators. Both oppose the bill. Other bill opponents have since come forward with similar stories.

On Friday, Parisi and Pope-Roberts sent a letter to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asking him to investigate whether these actions by TV4US may have violated Wisconsin laws, including any related to fraudulent advertising.

Laitman said while some groups have worked diligently to defeat the cable bill, in particular the Wisconsin Association of PEG Channels, which represents public access stations around the state, there has been no real organized opposition to the bill so far. She said the new alliance will work hard to educate the public on what she says are the fraudulent claims of AT&T and TV4US — specifically, that the bill will mean lower rates for consumers and more jobs for telecommunications workers.

“We want the full truth out in full view about this bill,” she said. “Hence, the name, TeleTruth.”

The Wisconsin group is a loose affiliate of a national group by the same name that was established in 2002 to represent the interests of broadband and telecommunications customers.

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