Community Media: Selected Clippings – 11/08/07

Make a place for rural Wisconsin
Editorial: The Capital Times

The AT&T-sponsored cable franchise bill now being rushed through the state Senate would have a devastating impact on rural areas, and legislators from those areas want to address the problems with the measure before it expands an already serious “digital divide.”  Unfortunately, the chief sponsor of this deeply flawed bill, state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, is trying to block amendments.

Plale is wrong. As state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, notes, Plale’s proposal does not contain needed consumer protections and offers no assurances that rural areas — including the western Wisconsin region that elected her last year — will enjoy the same access to telecommunication services as the Milwaukee County communities that elect Plale.

In proposing to rewrite the cable franchise bill to require AT&T, cable and other companies to contribute up to $7.5 million to a new “digital divide” fund to protect rural areas from being left behind, Vinehout says, “I’m representing the people that weren’t at the table.”  AT&T and the cable companies were given a place at the table by Plale and his Republican allies. Now, space must be made for rural Wisconsinites.

AT&T twists the truth on video competition bill
by Mary Cardona
The Capital Times (WI)

AT&T lobbyists are gifted at twisting the truth. I’ve seen the inspired work of this intense and expensive propaganda campaign; with enough money, you can get people to believe the direct opposite of what is true.

AT&T consultant Joe Mettner says in his column on Nov. 5 that the video competition bill will “provide consumers a choice.”  First, current law allows competition to occur. Second, AT&T only serves about one-third of the state. Third, this law allows AT&T to come in and cherry-pick the “high-value” customers. Fourth, this bill has the potential to leave some areas of our cities completely unserved with land-line cable. After this bill passes, some consumers may not have the choice of any cable service.

Mettner says this bill will not “consolidate control over communications.”  Actually, with this bill, cable and AT&T will have complete control over broadband video roll-out in this state — where it’s offered and when. The public will have no say. Under this bill, large cable and telephone providers are assumed to be qualified to run a system. The application process is less stringent than the one you go through to sign your son up for soccer. If one of these companies decides to sell, the state cannot review the new company’s qualifications.

The bill goes out of its way to make sure that state agencies with “oversight” of video have no funding, no right to assess penalties, and no right to make “rules and procedures” to enforce the law like every other state agency. Will build-out provisions designed to get AT&T video to at least some low-income residents work? Not without any enforcement they won’t.

Mettner characterizes the handful of consumer protections in state law as “tough” and “solid,” but the statute is actually weak and full of holes.  As a former cable television regulator, I am appalled. The Cable Subscribers’ Bill of Rights does not cover standard things like telephone answering times, having a local office, responding to billing disputes, and telling customers how to resolve complaints.

Illinois has a list of 60 consumer protections. In Wisconsin, AT&T will only have to abide by 10. And these are enforced by a toothless agency with no budget. Monopoly cable providers have an additional 10, but these are to be enforced by local governments that have been stripped of all enforcement options.

“Negotiated legislation”? Consumer and PEG advocates had to beg for a few crumbs. Eight amendments restored some consumer protections and saved PEG (public, education or government) channels from complete annihilation. A total of 30 amendments were suggested in the Assembly, but most of them were tabled without any vote or discussion at all.

The bill does not “jeopardize public access channels”? There are no technical standards. AT&T plans to put a region’s PEG channels onto one Web site/channel where subscribers will have to point and click icons to get a small digital stream of their local channel. To add insult to injury, AT&T is making stations pay for the equipment that will degrade our picture and sound. Several access stations will lose their PEG fees immediately and are likely to close.

Those “thorough hearings”? Nearly all PEG supporters were put at the end of the line. Attendees at the single public hearing on March 27 were treated to endless pontification by Rep. Phil Montgomery, and after the first several hours many access advocates had to travel back home without speaking. More than 100 access advocates showed up. The final one spoke nine hours into the hearing.

AT&T wants a license to turn a quick buck and is about to get it.  Cable wants to extract greater profits from Wisconsin by getting rid of community investment and is about to get it.  Residents should be hopping mad.

Bill Moyers Journal seeks the ‘teletruth’ about cable deregulation
Show to shadow watchdog group founder today
by Judith Davidoff
The Capital Times (WI)

The cable deregulation bill before the state Senate today is drawing national attention.  A film crew and reporter from Bill Moyers Journal will be in Madison to cover the vote and to shadow Cynthia Laitman, the co-founder of the statewide chapter of TeleTruth, a telecommunications watchdog group.

Moyers’ media correspondent Rick Karr said in a phone interview from New York Wednesday night that he was drawn to the debate in Wisconsin because it forms an evocative backdrop for looking at the “ways in which laws are made these days.”  He said he is especially interested in exploring the impact of “Astroturf” groups on legislative debates and identifying instances where corporate interests are able to co-opt unlikely allies. (Astroturf groups are industry-front groups that work to shape public opinion by appearing to have grassroots support.)

The story that unraveled in Wisconsin over the cable bill is compelling, he added, because it’s not just about “who controls your cable system, it’s also about who controls your Internet.”  Both Moyers and Karr have long been interested in media issues. “The Net at Risk,” a 90-minute documentary by Moyers and Karr on the attempts by corporate America to limit access to the Internet, was recently nominated for an Emmy Award for Business and Financial Reporting.   —>

Senate Democrats divided on new amendment to cable bill
by Sara Lieburn
The Daily Cardinal (WI)

The state Senate will vote Thursday on the video franchise bill, which easily passed the state Assembly but is facing opposition from some Senate and Assembly Democrats concerned about consumer protections.  The primary author of the Senate version of the bill, state Sen. Jeffrey Plale, D-South Milwaukee, argues the bill will provide for greater competition among cable providers and decrease prices.

Opponents, such as state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, argue the current language of the bill is too vague to sufficiently protect consumer rights.  Vinehout said she would offer a substitute bill Thursday, including 18 pages specifying consumer rights, which she contrasted to the page-and-a-half included in Plale’s bill.

“The bill, as it’s written right now, would not give the protections that exist today. Our bill, the substitute amendment, would give much more consumer protection,” Vinehout said.  Wednesday, 15 Assembly Democrats sent a letter to Plale expressing similar concerns about consumer protections, according to the Capital Times.   —>

FCC Considering New Media Rules
by John Dunbar
Associated Press

For the second time in four years, the government is rewriting media ownership rules, a process that probably will allow big companies to get even bigger.  While the stakes this time are smaller, the furor surrounding the process has, if anything, grown.

Democratic members of the Federal Communications Commission have accused the chairman, Republican Kevin Martin, of calling public hearings without adequate notice and rushing the review process. Martin wants a vote by year’s end.  Well-organized opponents have staged protests, attacked the FCC’s economic studies as biased in favor of liberalizing the rules and complained that the agency is not doing enough to promote minority ownership.

Congress is getting involved, too. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee plans to hear testimony on the issues Thursday. A House panel has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 6.  The FCC’s final public hearing on media ownership is set for Friday in Seattle.

Thanks to Congress, the debate this time does not include the issue that galvanized opposition to media consolidation in 2003: a national audience cap on television broadcasters.  “The national ownership cap was really a big, big fight last time,” said Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “You had the far right and the far left coalescing around this sort of perfect storm.”

The FCC voted to raise the cap from 35 percent to 45 percent. It followed intense lobbying from Viacom Inc., then-owner of CBS, which was at 38 percent, and News Corp., owner of Fox Broadcasting Inc. which was at 39 percent.  After the vote, Congress set the cap at 39 percent.

The priority for broadcasters now has shifted to two other rules: A prohibition against a radio or television broadcaster from owning a daily newspaper in the same community, and a ban on a single company owning two television stations in the same market, except in certain circumstances.   —>

City may get cable channel
Officials seek expanded programming as part of Comcast franchise renegotiation
by Jeff Amy
Press Register (AL)

Mayor Sam Jones probably won’t be sharing his chicken recipe on a cooking show.  And don’t count on a sports talk show where Councilwoman Gina Gregory extols her love for the University of Florida Gators.  But a television channel run by Mobile city government may be coming soon to a TV set near you. The city, as part of its franchise talks with Comcast Corp., is seeking to expand programming beyond twice-a-week reruns of City Council meetings.  “For a city of Mobile’s size, it’s time we get a public access channel,” said Barbara Drummond, who would likely oversee programming.   —>

Media Democracy – Call to action!
by Mike Rhodes
Central Valley | Indymedia (CA)

The residents of Fresno have the opportunity to establish a Public Access channel in this community. The decision will be made in the next couple of weeks and this “Call to Action” is intended to get you (the reader) to contact your Fresno City Council member, in support of Public Access TV.

If you want Public Access TV in Fresno, the time to act is now. The decision on whether or not the City of Fresno will accept funding from Comcast for a Public Access channel will be made in the next week or two. The Fresno City Council is the body that will make this decision and that decision will probably be made at their Tuesday, November 27 meeting. If you support Free Speech and believe the public, nonprofit organizations, and community groups should have a voice on TV, you need to contact your city council member now.   —>

Denver 8 TV Programming Schedule: Award-Winning, City-Produced Programming
The City and County of Denver Keeps Residents Informed and Involved (CO)
by Dave Maddox
Associated Content

Denver 8 TV is much more than community access TV. It is “fully programmed and operates on a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week basis,” according to Denver 8, providing information on local politics, events, culture, and more. The station also produces training videos for the city, and both the “Council Matters” program and a disability training video for local election judges won top prizes at a national competition in October. The station is available on cable television in Denver, over the Internet, and portions are broadcast over the air on local PBS station channel 12. Visit their website for more information about viewing options and programming.   —>

Georgia Grapples with Restrricted News Coverage
by Giorgi Lomsadze

One day after the worst political upheaval since Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, a national news brownout has left most Georgians struggling to make sense of the events that shook Tbilisi on November 7, and to predict what lies ahead.  With the exception of government-controlled Georgian Public Television, all television and radio news broadcasts have been ordered off the air for 15 days after President Mikheil Saakashvili’s November 7 declaration of a state of emergency. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The news brownout has been described as an attempt to defuse tensions.

The decree was preceded by the shutdown of one of the country’s main independent news broadcasters, the pro-opposition Imedi television and radio stations, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Special Forces units took over the property late on November 7, after days of heated allegations by government supporters and the president himself that the station, allegedly working in league with the Kremlin, was encouraging political instability in the country.

In an interview with EurasiaNet, Lewis Robertson, the head of News Media Caucasus, Imedi’s parent company, reported that riot police ransacked Imedi studios, destroying equipment and confiscating computers and hard drives. “They [special forces] pushed people around and used tear gas,” Robertson said. “They did not present a warrant; neither did they offer any explanation.” In a November 5 interview on Imedi, Robertson had earlier dismissed allegations of Russian influence on the station as “completely groundless and divorced from reality.”   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: astroturf, cable vs telco, democracy, FCC, freedom of the press, government access, human rights, media ownership, municipal programming, PEG access TV, press freedom, public access television, redlining, rural broadband, video franchising

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