WI: Lawmakers introduce bill to increase cable competition

Posted on March 9, 2007 - 10:29pm.

Note: TV4US mentioned in this article is an astroturf organization funded by AT&T

from: Gazette Extra

Lawmakers introduce bill to increase cable competition in Wis.

(Published Friday, March 9, 2007 10:25:18 AM CST)

By Scott Bauer
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. - To increase competition in the cable TV market, lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to make it easier for new companies to enter a community.

The bipartisan bill is modeled after laws passed in 11 states, said state Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, a sponsor. Those states have seen a decrease of up to 20 percent in cable fees charged to consumers and an increase in jobs as a result of the competition, he said.

Similar proposals have won support in other states from telephone companies, including AT&T and Verizon, who are trying to break into the cable TV business. Proposals have received opposition from existing cable companies and local governments that fear existing contracts will be broken.

Competition in Wisconsin has been hindered by a requirement that cable companies secure individual licenses, or franchises, from each community where they want to do business, Montgomery said. That process can take a lot of time and be expensive, he said.

The proposal, which is co-sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, would create a new, faster and cheaper application process at the state level.

Under the bill, any new provider would be required to match the existing cable provider's commitment to public, educational and government channels.

The Communications Workers of America and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, two labor unions, said they support of the measure because it will increase competition and provide jobs.

Texas became the first state in 2005 to streamline the video franchise process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A hearing on the Wisconsin proposal is scheduled for March 27 before the Assembly's Energy and Utilities Committee.

Thad Nation, who represents a coalition called TV4US Wisconsin which claims to have 21,000 members, praised the bill saying similar changes have proven to be popular in other states.

"This is historic legislation for consumers in Wisconsin," Nation said.