Community Media: Selected Clippings – 12/22/07

Media Covers “Video Competition” Bill Signing and Partial Vetoes Despite Timing Designed To Bury Story
by Barry Orton
Paul Soglin: Waxing America

If you are Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, and you must sign a bad bill pushed heavily by one of your biggest financial supporters, and you’ve line-item vetoed some of the bill’s worst provisions, which contained language that its legislative proponents specifically voted in both chambers not to amend, what do you do?

How about skipping a public signing ceremony, and releasing the veto message on, say, the Friday afternoon before Christmas, while doing a “feed the hungry” event at Second Harvest? That way, the story misses most television news on Friday, which had already overstuffed its audience with the “NFL Network and Big Ten Network at the Legislature” story the day before. The signing and vetoes story then lands in Saturday’s newspapers, and sits largely unread as Wisconsin frantically shops itself into a stupor over the weekend in preparation for Tuesday’s Holiday To Save the American Economy, formerly known as Christmas.

So Friday afternoon, my phone heated up with interviews from the working press trying to scope out What It Means, file a coherent story, and go home by dinnertime. Having read the veto message and the text of the actual vetoes, I was ready. This morning I was able to find out what it was I said to each reporter.

Despite the Governor’s effort to bury it, the story ran page one above the fold in the Capital Times and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and page one in the local section of the State Journal.  As usual in this story, The Capital Times’ coverage was solid.  Jeff Richgels and Judith Davidoff (“Prof: Don’t hold breath for new services under state cable law“) led with my prediction that:  Gov. Jim Doyle’s signing of the state cable franchising bill isn’t likely to mean AT&T — a leading backer of the bill — will bring its U-verse TV service to the Madison area anytime soon, one prominent observer said.

“I don’t see it in Madison in any widespread way in 2008,” said Barry Orton, a UW-Madison professor of telecommunications who has advised many communities in their dealings with cable companies.  Orton noted that AT&T has been reducing its rollout projections for U-verse in recent announcements.  “Every single estimate cuts back on the previous one,” he said.  Richgels and Davidoff also nailed, in plain language, what Doyle’s vetoes did and the likely impact on local access channels.

Mark Pitsch’s Wisconsin State Journal story also did a very good job in outlining the vetoes, and covered the access angle as well.  I was happy with my quotes, which Mark used to frame the story: “Doyle ‘s vetoes hold the potential for substantial state oversight of the industry — whereas the bill the Legislature sent to his desk sought to eliminate state regulation.” “The state will be a legitimate overseer of this industry rather than a rubber stamp to whatever the industry wants to do, ” said Barry Orton, a UW-Madison telecommunications professor who urged Doyle to issue the vetoes on behalf of local governments and some lawmakers who opposed the bill.  “It means the cable companies and other providers won’t be able to run roughshod over consumers. ” …”He’s made a ridiculous bill only pretty bad, and that’s good, ” Orton said of Doyle.

Over at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Steve Walters and Stacy Forster managed to cram in a list of all the vetoes, cover the impact on access channels,  add my framing (“Barry Orton, a University of Wisconsin-Madison telecommunications professor and consultant to local governments, called Doyle’s vetoes courageous.”), and then advanced the story by quoting Senator Jeff Plale, a chief sponsor, that there wouldn’t be any attempt to override the vetoes.

Walters and Foster also skillfully managed to put the whole bill in context while quoting one of its most effective opponents, Rep. Gary Hebl, and its most effective shill, Thad Nation of TV4US:  Legislators who fought the bill said Doyle’s vetoes improved it but predicted that rural areas will not be helped by competition and new telecommunications products.  “People in many areas of the state won’t see any competition . . . because companies such as AT&T have no plans to provide service beyond their existing service footprint, which covers less than half of the state,” Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) said in a statement.   —>

Prof: Don’t hold breath for new services under state cable law
by Jeff Richgels and Judith Davidoff
Capitol Times (WI)

Gov. Jim Doyle’s signing of the state cable franchising bill isn’t likely to mean AT&T — a leading backer of the bill — will bring its U-verse TV service to the Madison area anytime soon, one prominent observer said.   —>

Governor signs new cable bill
by Mark Pitsch
Wisconsin State Journal

Gov. Jim Doyle signed the controversial cable competition bill Friday. But through a series of vetoes he opened the door to significant state consumer-protection powers.    —>

Doyle toughens, then signs cable bill
Vetoes restore some consumer protections, state regulation
by Steven Walters and Stacy Forster
Journal Sentinel (WI)

Gov. Jim Doyle on Friday signed a bill taking Wisconsin into a new era of cable TV regulation, after rewriting it extensively to restore consumer protections and give state regulators control over franchises they issue.  One of 13 vetoes will let public-access channels try to pay for themselves with commercial programming, since those channels will lose funding that now comes from cable companies within three years.   —>

Cable TV bill’s muscle doubted
Doyle signs measure with hopes of lowering prices
Post Crescent (WI)

Even an improved version of a cable competition bill won’t live up to the hype.  At least that’s what opponents said of the measure signed into law Friday by Gov. Jim Doyle.  “It needs so much work,” said state Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie. “The best thing would have been to veto the whole bill.”   —>

EDITORIAL: Cable bill still flawed despite 14 ‘partial vetoes’
The Daily Telegram (WI)

Wisconsin’s cable deregulation bill, signed into law Friday by Gov. Jim Doyle, is a prime example of dysfunctional lawmaking and administrative overview in Madison.  Proponents say the measure will reduce cable TV bills, but nobody believes it. But here’s something virtually everyone agrees upon. The bill is severely flawed.

In a press release, Doyle lauds the bill, saying it will expand services, streamline the franchise process, stimulate investments in communications technologies — all while protecting consumers.

All of that sounds great if it weren’t for his Thursday letter to the Wisconsin Assembly. In the three-page statement, he employs a “partial veto” (Frankenstein veto) on the legislation 14 times. The governor nixes language relating to franchise expiration, application review, automatic approval (twice), franchise revocation, municipal franchise fees, records review, statute interpretation, low income definition, income discrimination, public channel usage, the application of annual fees, service outages and right-of-way usage.

Imagine a head of lettuce sliced into cole slaw by a Ginsu knife — that’s about what’s left of the original bill. It makes you wonder: If the original legislation was that bad, how could Doyle sign it? It’s like he took a picture puzzle of Courtney Love, reassembled the pieces and created the image of Britney Spears. Bottom line: It’s not the Mona Lisa.  And it’s not good government.

Legislators say they’ll fix remaining problems during the 2008 session. That’s well and good if it happens — and there’s no guarantee. A better option would have been to work out the flaws before handing Doyle legislation ripe for vivisection.

Port business: Must-see TV?
Commission to broadcast regular meetings on Web, television
by Kelly Kearsley
The News Tribune (WA)

You’ll soon be able to watch the Port of Tacoma Commission’s meetings on television and over the Internet.  The commission voted 4-1 this week to Web stream and televise its meetings. The approval came after some discussion over the cost and whether there’s much of an audience for such programming.  “This is wonderful. This is exactly the direction we should be going in,” said port Commissioner Clare Petrich.  Commissioner Connie Bacon said a “cast of thousands and millions” won’t like to watch the port meetings – but that’s not the point of making them available.  “Our interest is delivering it so that people who want to watch it can watch it. If you don’t want to watch it, don’t watch it,” Bacon said.

The initiative comes after much urging by Friends of the Port, a citizens’ group formed last summer.  The group has been advocating that the port televise its commission meetings so that the community can witness the decision-making process and be more involved.  The ports of Seattle and Olympia already televise their meetings as do several local governments, including Pierce County and the cities of Tacoma and Fife.

The Port Commission approved a $170,000 contract with San Francisco-based Granicus to provide the Web streaming equipment and training, and help coordinate the televising of the commission meetings.  Each meeting – the Port Commission has two regular meetings and usually one study session per month – will be archived on the port’s Web site and available for viewers to watch at any time.   —>

Comcast expected to cut support for public access TV
by Alicia Petska
News & Advance (VA)

Comcast is looking to call “Cut!” on Lynchburg’s public access channel, with its next franchise contract expected to drop funding for the station that runs community announcements, City Council meetings and a bevy of public-generated shows.  The changeover – expected by the city for more than a year  – was originally scheduled to start Jan. 1. That date has since been pushed back due to delays in negotiations.  This will be the first major change to the local cable agreement since the current contract was signed in 1988.

By law, Comcast, which took over Adelphia last year, still has to reserve a channel for any public access programming. New rules passed by the General Assembly, however, no longer require it to provide the studio space, equipment or manpower necessary to film those shows.  City Council has already taken steps to ensure its meetings will stay on the airwaves, setting aside $266,000 to start a special government station that will reside on Channel 15 and include both C-SPAN-like meeting coverage and original programming.

Within that budget, $166,000 is for staffing and running the channel, while the remaining $100,000 is for the purchase of new equipment. The city plans to take full control of the current public access studio, which is housed in city hall. It also recently hired a full-time “broadcast services coordinator” – former WDBJ7 newsman and Lynchburg bureau chief Steve Smallshaw – to oversee the line-up.

What it didn’t do, however, is earmark any money for the publicly produced programming it now shares space with on Community Channel 7.  Those amateur TV personalities, whose programs are largely but not exclusively built around religious messages, will be forced to bankroll their own shows if they wish to carry on.  Currently, it costs nothing to put a program on Channel 7.  According to city calculations, keeping the public side of public access going would take close to $86,000 a year, an expense City Council unanimously rejected back in August.   —>

A License for Local Reporting
by Roderick P. Hart, Alex S. Jones, Thomas Kunkel, Nicholas Lemann, John Levine, Dean Mills, David M. Rubin and Ernest Wilson
Ney York Times

Journalists are instinctively libertarian, at least when it comes to journalism. We like the conversation about journalism and the federal government to begin and end with a robust defense of the First Amendment. That’s why journalists have not been leading participants in the debate over the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation of broadcasting, even though the future of our profession and its public mission is at stake.

But our profession needs to cast its reluctance to discuss broadcast regulation aside, and to let its voice be heard, loud and clear — on behalf of local reporting. The outcome of F.C.C. policy that matters most to us is not who owns what, but how much news gathering goes on.

On Tuesday, the F.C.C., in a close vote, decided to relax its rule against one company owning both broadcast and newspaper properties in a single market. Kevin J. Martin, the F.C.C. chairman, has offered a journalistic justification for this move: broadcast profits would help pay for the substantial news-gathering staffs at newspapers.

But local television and radio stations should be doing their own news gathering, rather than merely serving as support systems for news gathering by newspapers. Besides, if Mr. Martin were really so passionate about news gathering, he wouldn’t have restricted the F.C.C.’s action to media properties in big cities. Don’t small-town news organizations need help, too?   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable vs telco, cross-ownership, FCC, government access, media ownership, municipal programming, PEG access TV, public access television, video franchising

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