Monday, April 16, 2007

Fiction and Facts on Bill for Cable Franchises

The state continues to consider handing AT&T a sweet deal to bypass local control of cable franchises and has picked up the support of the ever-dubious lobbying of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which continues to exude hearty support for corporate interests and little support for the average Tennessean.

The Chattanoogan offered the TCPR and their president Drew Johnson the first of three editorials on the cable franchise bill:

By pulling the plug on Tennessee’s outdated system of local cable monopolies and allowing statewide franchises, state lawmakers can allow constituents to tune into a new world of television options. Just as dozens of restaurants mean a variety of food options at competitive prices, video franchise reform would result in cheaper television and video services with more channels and better customer service for millions of Tennesseans."

Johnson's claims are just shy of some basic facts, as noted by Stacey Briggs of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association:

The “Tennessee Should Tune into a New Era of Cable Competition” article written by Drew Johnson and published on your site, is wildly inaccurate and an extremely misleading piece of information to appear at a time when legislators are debating whether to dismantle the local franchising system as AT&T is proposing.

Mr. Johnson writes that “it’s exactly how the cable industry operates in Tennessee” that there is a law that limits one cable provider in any city. He repeats it, “Only one franchise is given per locale, meaning there is only one choice in cable for residents.” This is simply not true. There are no exclusive cable franchises in Tennessee, and even limited exploration of the industry and local franchise law would have made Mr. Johnson – who works for the Tennessee Center for Policy Research – aware of this. No other published account has stated there is a law prohibiting AT&T’s entry into any city – in fact, the immense amount of testimony in Nashville and the media coverage about it makes it clear AT&T has had the ability the past 11 years to compete.

The fact is, AT&T can compete in any city in Tennessee today. It could go directly this afternoon to see Mayor Claude Ramsey and Mayor Ron Littlefield, file applications and get approvals within 90 days to provide video service to folks in Hamilton County. But that’s not what the company really wants – it has proposed a sweetheart deal that would give the company greater competitive standing than any cable company could ever dream, would diffuse almost every existing consumer protection and allow the company to step over the very laws that protect local public rights of way."

Neil Ritchie of the League of Rural Voters agress the bill is bad business for individuals and for local governments:

For years, telephone lobbyists have promised new high-speed networks for our communities in return for special state legislation and deregulation. Each time their favors are granted, they quickly forget about their promises.

Enough is enough. It’s time to stop the sweetheart deals for the telephone companies, ensure that they play by the rules to which their competitors abide, and live up to their perennially broken promises to serve our communities."

Read all three editorials here.

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