A new law which takes the cable TV business away from local controls and local voices sailed out of the Tennessee Senate Committee yesterday and looks to be headed to a vote by the full legislature - which, I expect means it will be adopted and made law.
As I've written before, I have no opposition to AT&T wanting to jump into the cable business - but to make that decision only after state law is altered, only after local control of cable franchises has been removed, provides no benefit to the consumer and muddles the procedures for how such franchises would be held accountable.
Yesterday I mentioned some of the reasons the Senate Committee chaired by East Tennessee Republican Steve Southerland gave in to the pressures of the high-dollar lobbying by AT&T. Senator Southerland, along with Sens. Beavers, Bunch, Crutchfield, Stanley and Wilder. Voting no were Sens. Burchett, Burks and Tate.
A plan which would have allowed for the Tennessee Regulatory Committee to provide oversight of the requirements of the now all-but-approved changes to law was scrapped and instead and entirely new state organization will be created to "oversee" the law.
The new group (no mention of it's operational costs and impact on the state budget) will be made up of twelve members nominated by the Tennessee Municipal League (which had opposed the legislation) and the Tennessee County Services Association (despite that counties statewide voted to oppose the bill), and by the State Comptroller, the commissioner of the Dept. of Economic and Community Development, and the chairman of the TRA.
Just fascinating how opposition to the bill was transformed once some of those opposing it would now be part of a creating the special government committee.
In Tom Humphrey's report today in the Knoxville News Sentinel, he has this marvelous quote from AT&T president in Tennessee, Marty Dickens:
"the Senate committee's vote demonstrates the legislators are listening to consumers"
I have heard precious few "consumers" advocate this bill. Highly paid lobbyists have been vocal, though, spending millions to push this bill.
And as Humphrey writes, opposition to the bill from Sen. Tim Burchett prompted AT&T to warn him that his opposition would cost him campaign contributions. AT&T attorney Joelle Phillips said nothing inappropriate was done, though, and that her company backs "less government, lower taxes and more freedom."
True, if you think adding a new level of state bureaucracy is "less government". The cost to the budget, unknown. Cost to taxpayers, unknown. Benefits for AT&T - large.
The bill may be voted on in the full legislature Thursday.
NOTE: Sadly, for the first time, my last email to my Senator, Steve Southerland, opposing the bill has gone unanswered.
UPDATE: R. Neal at KnoxViews has more on the topic, noting that despite local government requests for AT&T to go ahead and offer a plan without the new bill in place, AT&T declined.