MN: Statewide Cable Franchising Committee Meeting

Posted on March 17, 2007 - 12:18pm.

from: Blandin on Broadband

Statewide Cable Franchising Committee Meeting

I was wrestling socks on my two year old. I turned on the TV to distract her – and what came on? The live committee meeting for the statewide cable franchise proposal! It didn’t distract her but I got out paper and a pen to take the best notes I could. (Remember, I still had the two year old.) I have wrriten them up as best I could. It’s long but hopefully helpful.

(I walked in when John Stanoch from Qwest seemed to be introducing the proposed legislation.)

The gist seemed to be that the telephone companies want to be able to provide video services (i.e. cable). They don’t want to appeal to local governments to get local franchises; they want to be able to work through a statewide resource – because it is too timely consuming and timing is unpredictable when you work through multiple local cable franchising overseers. If the bill passes, it would be at least 2 years before Qwest got into telephoneprovide video in Minnesota.

Qwest would not discriminate against consumers but they are limited by the technology as to which areas they are serve immediately in accordance to where they have their facilities in a community.

(Next came Joanne Johnson from Frontier, who I have to admit in fairness I have known and liked for many years.)

Video competition would be good for Minnesota because competition will bring lower prices to consumers and potentially more revenue to local governments. Currently telephone companies often bundle their services with video options from satellite companies, who do not pay franchise fees because they do not use local right-or-way services. However if they could, telecos would rather look into ipTV and would then pay franchise fees to local governments to provide that service – and adding that services would help local telcos reach consumers who were new to the market.

Video competition is now available in 9 states. Generally the applications are handed by the Secretary of State similar to applications from CLECs. Applications are 3-5 pages and applicants talk about who they and the areas they want to serve.

(Next came Wauneta Brown from AT&T.)

From 1995-2005 average consumer cable costs have increased 93 percent. In at least 3 areas where there is video competition those rates have gone down. This situation today is different from a time when the cable companies wanted to provide voice services because video is not an essential service; voice is.

The telcos are looking for a uniform statewide application process with standards because working with numerous local applications processes without standards prevents telcos from entering the market and squelches competition. AT&T has no plans to enter the video market in Minnesota within the next 2 years.

(Next came Jeff Lueders from MACTA.)

There is legislation in place for telephone companies to become video providers and it is happening in some communities in Minnesota. The competitors must apply with the local decision makers. MACTA has worked with their members to streamline the application process and the local governments welcome the competition and the potential for improved services for their citizens. However few have seen companies such as Qwest join the competition.

FCC ReportCities need to maintain control of their right-of-way to ensure that all citizens are served and ensure that build outs are completely with a minimum of disturbance. The experience in the 9 states that have sanctioned telcos as video providers has not necessarily been positive. The FCC recently adopted an order that gives local governments 90 days to reject or approve cable-service licenses sought by phone companies that already have facilities in city-controlled rights of way. But that is expected to be appealed.

(Next came Mike Wassenaar from St Paul Neighborhood Network.)

While it is great that the proposed legislation offers provisions for public access programming, it may not be enough. The local governments and nonprofits cannot afford to lose revenue or increase expenses to accommodate new video providers. Public access should be treated as well as commercial programming (adequate broadband, visible and consistent channels) and there should be room to grow with commercial options so that public access does not remain stagnant at 2007 standards.

television(Finally came Mike Reardon from the Cable Communication for the City of St. Paul.)

Local governments are not necessarily a barrier to video competition. Local governments support efforts to broaden competition to all citizens regardless of income, race or location. Video is as much an essential services as phone services. Most of the time each is an entertainment of convenience – but when you need to call 911 the phone is essential and when you need information from the emergency broadcast services video is essential.

The legislators asked providers if they planned to enter the market in the next 2 years. So, that appeared to be foremost on their minds.

Whew – I think I got it all. I tried to keep my own views out – and attribute remarks to the right people. I wasn’t able to find a copy of the proposed legislation online – but apparently they are available in paper at the capitol. I have a call into a friend who works at the capitol to get a copy for me. Once I get it I’ll try to correct anything I misunderstood from the committee meeting.

My own opinion as a consumer: I was it both ways. I want the lower costs. Right now I don’t have full cable because I think it’s too expensive. I want video to be considered a necessity to make room for more applications that are less entertainment and more educational or transactional. I want everyone to have access – including many of my clients who are in remote areas of the state. I want public access, which is how I happened to see the committee meeting today. I want good service and I don’t want my streets torn up regularly to make changes.

( categories: AT&T | MINNESOTA | Qwest | State Franchises )