Community Media: Selected Clippings – 04/18/07

[ Lots of significant news today – statewide video franchising bills passed in the Iowa House, a Florida Senate committee, and House committees in Tennesse and Wisconsin.  – rm ]  

NIAGARA FALLS: Keeping council meetings on the record
City is relying on dedicated Niagara Falls High School students to air public meetings
by Denise Jewell
Niagara Gazette (NY)

There was a time — in the ’50s and ’60s — when Niagara Falls residents could read, word-for-word, what their lawmakers were discussing at City Council meetings.  Each meeting was audiotaped, transcribed and published weekly for taxpayers to see.  Today, that’s not an option.

Since a City Hall construction project in 2003 disconnected the speaker system between the council chambers and the clerk’s office, the city hasn’t been keeping audio tapes of each council meeting.  Instead, the city relies on a group of dedicated high school students to videotape and produce a cable access broadcast of each council meeting.   —>

Cable TV bill clears Senate committee
WTSP – Tampa Bay’s 10 News (FL)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A bill that would give the state franchising authority for cable TV agreements was approved by a Senate committee,  Several senators gave it lukewarm support they said could change when it hits the Senate floor.   —>

Question of the day
by Rich Miller
The Capitol Fax Blog (IL)

CAN-TV is sending a group down to Springfield this week to lobby against a proposal that would allow AT&T to get into the cable business.

And that got me to thinking, do you believe that cable companies and phone companies which seek to provide cable-like services ought to be forced to fund community access programming and provide spaces on their service for the channels?  Bonus questions: Do you watch community access TV, and if so, do you have a favorite program?   —>

Bill allowing statewide cable TV franchise passes House
by O. Kay Henderson
Radio Iowa

The feud between two media companies earlier this year that kept some Iowa basketball games off Mediacom cable systems has gotten reaction from Iowa lawmakers. Last night, the Iowa House, on a 77 to 19 vote,  passed a bill that rewrites the state’s cable franchise law in hopes of lowering rates for customers. Currently, cable companies must negotiate individual service deals with local communities.

The bill allows for a statewide cable TV franchise instead. Representative Art Staed, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, worries that if the bill becomes law, cable companies will no longer be forced to extend service to rural areas, or low-income neighborhoods.   —>

House Approves Cable Franchise Bill
Measure Goes Back To Senate
KCCI Des Moines (IA)

DES MOINES, Iowa —  The Iowa House has approved a bill that would give cable companies the right to offer their services statewide.  The bill would replace a system in which cable companies are required to apply for a franchise in a city, with most cities allowing only one provider.

Rep. Phil Wise, a Democrat from Keokuk, said it will provide new choices for customers. Some city officials are opposed, saying the current system allows cities to customize franchise agreements to meet local needs.  The House, which approved the bill Tuesday, amended it to provide local governments with greater protection from financial losses and service interruptions.  It goes back to the Senate.

Cable franchise bill passes House sub-committee
by R. Neal
Knox Views (TN)

The Tennessee House Utilities, Banking, and Small Business sub-committee voted 8 to 6 to recommend passage of the cable franchise bill that will eliminate local control of cable franchises.  Representatives voting for approval were: Cobb C, Gilmore, Kelsey, Lynn, McCormick, Pitts, Curtiss, Shepard.  Representatives voting against approval were: Fitzhugh, Lundberg, Matheny, McManus, Rowe, Towns.

It is on the Senate Commerce, Labor, and Agriculture committee calendar for action today. The House action today was, I believe, the first recorded vote on the measure.  Here’s a recent post by C.E. Petro about why this isn’t a good idea, and here’s a KnoxViews roundup.   —>

Video franchising bill clears hurdle
by Andy Sher
The Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)

NASHVILLE — A statewide video franchising bill cleared a major House hurdle today when a House Commerce subcommittee amended the AT&T-backed measure and then passed it on an 8-6 vote.  AT&T is pushing the bill, which would allow the telecommunications giant to jump-start its entry into providing video services to Tennessee households. Cable franchises now are controlled by local governments, and the bill would set up a statewide franchising process.

The bill picked up support through a “build-out” provision offered by Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, vice chairman of the Utilities, Banks and Small Business Subcommittee. Such provisions require video services providers to serve less-profitable segments of communities for the overall public good.  “I believe we have a responsibility in the legislature to look out for all citizens of the state,” Rep. McCormick told colleagues, saying he adopted his provision from a recently passed statewide franchising bill passed in Missouri.

The main sponsor of the bill, Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Lexington, said the requirement was “unnecessary and could even be detrimental.”

Rural lawmakers want AT&T bill to expand broadband to their areas
by John Rodgers
The City Paper (TN)

State lawmakers from rural areas say that a major bill backed by AT&T to get the company into the television business needs to include provisions to expand broadband Internet into rural parts of the state as well.

AT&T is heavily pushing for a bill to allow them to obtain a statewide television franchise to offer “video services” through their existing phone lines and compete with cable television.  Currently, cable franchises can only be obtained at the local level, such as Comcast’s in Davidson County. The cable industry and local governments are opposing AT&T’s efforts.

Rep. Mark Maddox (D-Dresden), who chairs the state’s Broadband Task Force, said some provisions in the AT&T-backed bill need to be aimed at providing broadband “to every citizen.”  “I think that’s necessary,” Maddox said. “We have to have some agreement. These are the folks that provide broadband access, both AT&T and the cable companies, and we need to see some provision for that to happen in rural areas as well as urban areas.”

Consumers helped by cable bill
by Jeff Richgels
The Capital Times (WI)

—>   Consumer protections such as mandated credits for extended outages would not be eliminated under an amended version of a controversial cable TV bill that passed a state Assembly committee on Tuesday…    The “Video Competition Act,” which would take cable franchising out of the hands of local municipalities and make it a state matter, is scheduled to be taken up by the full Assembly next Tuesday.

Barry Orton, a UW-Madison professor of telecommunications who advises many communities in their dealings with cable companies, has been a fierce critic of the bill but offered guarded praise after the amendments, several of which he said improved the bill “significantly.”  “It moved it back to where it should have been, but it ain’t done yet,” said Orton, who called the expansion of consumer protections to satellite providers “huge.”

… Despite the amendments, not all lawmakers were satisfied. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today that Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, said he plans to introduce an amendment next week that would let existing franchise agreements between municipalities and cable companies continue until competition in a market actually exists.   —>

Video Competition Bill Improved a Bit More
by Barry Orton
Paul Soglin: Waxing America (WI)

Yesterday, the Video Competition bill got improved quite a bit in the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities.  Today, the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, and Rail added two more significant amendments, both very positive.

The first would grandfather existing PEG channel funding for three years, or the expiration of the current franchise, whichever comes first.  This is a great victory for the continuation of local access operations and a certification of their community importance.   Pressure for this was generated by a genuine grassroots effort – not an expensive “astroturf” ad campaign.

The second amendment updates statute 134.43, which protects cable subscriber privacy rights, to include new video services under state franchise. This includes subscribers’ names and addresses, as well as viewing patterns.  This amendment particularly pleases me, since I helped work on the the original bill in 1981, when Rep. Marlin Schneider, always ahead of his time, was its sponsor.  The Leg Council’s John Stolzenberg, whose analysis is the roadmap to AB 207/SB 107, also worked on 134.43 with us in 1981, and must be also pleased with this update to his legacy.  (Marlin, John, and I were all somewhere in our late teens back then.)

There are still some big problems with this bill, particularly with the lack of authority for DFI, and the more than million-dollar cost to the state to handle the complaints that the new wild west in consumer video services will be sure to generate.

Looks like floor action next Tuesday, at least in the Assembly. I’ll keep you posted.
– Barry Orton

Lawmakers reinstate cable rights
by Keegan Kyle
The Badger Herald (WI)

—>   State legislators restored cable-subscriber rights and extended consumer protection to other video service providers in the proposed video franchise bill before passing it in committee Tuesday morning.,,

State Rep. Brent Davis, R-Oshkosh, and Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, introduced the amendment to the Assembly’s Energy and Utilities Committee.  “I fought to extend these protections for those in rural communities where satellite is the only available video option,” Davis said in an April 16 statement.  As proposed, the expanded consumer protection rights would be enforced by the DATCP while granting the statewide franchise agreements would be handled by the Financial Institutions Department.

The committee passed the bill 9-1 with Rep. Tony Staskunas, D-West Allis, dissenting. He did not return messages from The Badger Herald Tuesday seeking comment.

Brad Clark, cable TV coordinator for Madison, said the legislative committee made progress with consumer protection but still called the bill “fatally flawed.” Clark — also station manager of Madison City Channel, Madison’s public access television station — said it would undermine public stations funded by the current franchise fee system.

Currently, most cable companies agree to pay municipalities 5 percent of gross revenues. In 2006, Clark said Charter Communications — the nation’s third-largest cable provider — paid the city of Madison $1.9 million dollars, and Madison City Channel received about $250,000 from the payout.

Originally, the video franchise bill defined gross revenue in such a way that municipalities could have received smaller payouts, since the bill outlined several revenue exemptions that are not currently recognized by most municipalities. The provision was amended Tuesday so the definition of gross revenue reflects the current payout system.

“That means cities for the most part will be kept whole financially and will not have to raise property taxes to offset services,” Clark said.  He said the change is a major improvement, but added that the bill could still cut Madison City Channel’s second source of funding — public, education and government access services (PEG) fees.

Each month when Madison residents receive their Charter Communication cable bills, subscribers are charged a 62-cent “access fee,” which generates funding for Madison public, educational and government channels. Funds generated by this fee doubles Madison City Channel’s budget, increasing it by another $250,000.

Clark said removing the access fee would “put WYOU (Madison City Channel) out of business and cripple Madison City.  Today, Clark and other industry advocates will attend a meeting by the Senate’s utility committee. Although Clark will not be allowed to publicly testify, he will be able to witness the committee amend and vote on its version of the video franchise bill.

Verizon suspends push for Mass. TV franchises
Firm criticizes licensing process
by Carolyn Y. Johnson
The Boston Globe (MA)

After spending an average of 15 months in each of 45 communities to win approval to offer television service, Verizon Communications Inc. has had enough for now: The company says it will stop seeking new applications in Massachusetts until it finishes all pending projects.   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Dir., Information & Organizing Services
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: municipal programming, PEG access TV, public access television, redlining, video franchising

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