Public Interest Groups Urge Governor Crist to Veto ‘Consumer Choice Act’

Contact:

Brad Ashwell, Florida PIRG, (850) 224-3321
Louise Thompson, Tampa Bay Community Network, (813) 362-7855
Jen Howard, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x22

Florida Telecom Bill Puts Future of Broadband and Public Access Channels at Risk

TALLAHASSEE — Consumer groups and local public access stations are urging Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the “Consumer Choice Act of 2007” — legislation that would eliminate long-standing consumer protections and local oversight of cable TV providers. This legislation, which passed the Florida Senate and House in late April, is now on the governor’s desk awaiting his decision.

“The Consumer Choice Act of 2007 is an industry-driven revision of Florida’s telecommunications laws written to benefit AT&T,” said Brad Ashwell, legislative director of the Florida Public Interest Research Group. “The bill would allow giant phone companies to gut consumer protections and dodge local community access requirements.”

Currently, local governments negotiate “cable franchises” to establish customer-service standards; provide funding for public, educational and government (PEG) access channels; and ensure that consumers can call local officials to resolve problems with their cable company. Having failed in efforts to pass national video franchising legislation, powerful phone companies have been aggressively pushing the Consumer Choice Act (House Bill 529) to bypass this system of local accountability.

“In pursuit of the valuable goal of competition in cable TV markets, the Florida legislature has managed to craft a policy that is unfriendly to consumers,” said Joel Kelsey, grassroots coordinator at Consumers Union the publisher of Consumer Reports. “This legislation not only fails to ensure that consumers will benefit from new video competition, it may expose them to the risk of higher cable rates, reduced quality and reduced access to competitive choices offered via the Internet.”

“This bill would make it easy for big telecom companies to ignore Florida’s underserved areas and offer their services to only the wealthiest communities,” added Frannie Wellings, associate policy director of Free Press. “To create a level playing field for all consumers, Florida needs policies that build high-speed broadband and video networks in all communities.”

Public access stations — and the local communities that depend on them — would be hit especially hard by Florida’s proposed video franchising legislation. Among its many damaging provisions, the bill sets high “use-it-or-lose-it” programming standards for public access TV and requires a vote by a majority of local cable subscribers to keep PEG channels in their lineups.

“The bill is the beginning of the end of public access in Florida,” said Louise Thompson, executive director of Tampa Bay Community Network, which manages public access TV on behalf of Tampa and Hillsborough County. “Without PEG access, there will be no place to view government meetings; no place to watch Homework Hotline; no place for ordinary citizens to get their issues out to their neighbors.”

“In the global world, where educational skills are paramount, this bill reverses Florida’s advances in distance learning, effectively reducing students’ access to educational technology and widening the digital divide,” said Ann Goldenberg, executive director of the Tampa Educational Cable Consortium. “Florida’s schools, universities, and students deserve better than what HB 529 offers them. To preserve this vital resource for future generations, we urge everyone to contact Governor Crist and tell him to veto HB 529.”

For more information, visit http://www.saveaccess.org/ or http://www.freepress.net/statetracker/=FL.

###

Jen Howard
Associate Communications Director
Free Press
o: 202-265-1490 x 22
c: 703-517-6273
jhoward@freepress.net
http://www.FreePress.net

Reform Media. Transform Democracy.

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One Comment on “Public Interest Groups Urge Governor Crist to Veto ‘Consumer Choice Act’”


  1. […] From Rob in comments…This bill is terrible. Hopefully Crist will veto this one. A bill that creates the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation […]


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