MN: Black Groups Oppose Video Bill in Minnesota

Posted on March 29, 2007 - 10:20am.

from: Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Black Groups Oppose Video Bill in Minnesota

March 28, 2007
By Matthew Little

Representatives of both the Minneapolis NAACP and the Minneapolis Urban League testified before the Minnesota House Telecommunication, Regulations and Infrastructure Committee last Friday, March 23. They spoke in opposition to a bill labeled “The Minnesota Video Competition Act.”

Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul) sponsored the bill, and in testimony it was referred to as the State-wide Franchising Act. The bill proposed to establish competitive video services throughout the state by requiring the various providers of service to be authorized under conditions set by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

The Minneapolis NAACP was represented by Duane Reed, its president. Reed presented a strong argument against the passage of the legislation. He indicated that the new proposal contained no stipulations for broad coverage to the many diverse markets of the state.

Cheryl Morgan-Spencer, the Urban League’s community development coordinator, dutifully noted to the committee that her remarks represented those of Executive Director Clarence Hightower and the Urban League. Morgan-Spencer expressed fears that the bill as worded could result in redlining of certain low-income and minority areas, permitting providers to cherry-pick programming.

She maintained that the legislation contained no guarantee that all areas would be provided equal programming. Committee member Rep. Paul Thisen (DFL-Mpls.) challenged her contention, but she was up to the challenge and agreed to provide documentation.

Several representatives of the telecommunications industry also joined the two community advocates in opposition to the legislation. One of the most forceful and articulate was Pete Rose of WRNB cable music channel.

Rose and his wife Kim have been in the industry for 22 years and are the only licensed African American operatives in the state. Rose argued that his station represented the rapidly increasing numbers of non-White consumers that do not necessarily identify with mainstream video.

He suggested that although people of color, of late, are being utilized more frequently, they are not always scripted to represent the true multicultural dimensions of the diverse community. He, too, supported the contention that the new bill presented an opening for diminished access for minority communities.

Other representatives of the telecommunications industry presenting testimony against the legislation included Randy Young, Minn. Association for Rural Telecommunications; Greg Moore, NW Suburban Cable Communications Commission; Mike Martin, executive director, MN Cable Communications Association; Tim Finnerty, Ramsey/Washington Cable Commission; and Bill Jensen, regional vice president of Mediacom Communications Corp.

Jensen, whose organization, according to him, provides video, Internet and voice production to 200 communities, mostly in rural Minnesota, insisted that the legislation is useless if the intent is, as stated, to promote competition in the industry. He maintains that there is plenty of competition throughout the state.

Jensen stated that his company not only has competition from other satellite companies, but from nearly 40 telephone companies. He concluded by asking, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

The committee did not vote on the bill. Instead it decided to hold the bill over for further discussion and hear further testimony on April 13. That leaves a very small window for the possibility of it becoming law during this session of the legislature.

From what this reporter understands, the bill would do more than foster competition in certain jurisdictions; it also would permit some larger providers to be selective in choosing jurisdictions of coverage, which could have a harmful effect on less affluent communities.

( categories: MINNESOTA | State Franchises )