Attempts to fully understand the implications of AT&T's Video Franchising Bill are met with fierce resistance.
Fast track going where?
Rep. Steve Hilgenberg
As a first-term Assembly respresentative who took office five months ago, I recently had my first experience with a lobbying full court press. As you may know, 15 lobbyists have set up shop in the Capitol to offer input on Assembly Bill 207. The bill is referred to as the "Video Franchising Bill." It would replace the existing 30-year-old system of municipal franchising of cable television with state franchising for video services offered by cable providers and telecommunications providers.
Two things are new here and both have potentially huge consequences. First is the entry of telecommunications (in this case industry giant AT&T) into the state's cable TV market. Second is replacing the contract negotiation at the local level with a statewide contract.
Obviously, AT&T would like this legislation to move forward quickly with few changes. There is general agreement in the Legislature that the goal of promoting competition in the cable TV market is worthwhile.
The differences come in the extent to which opening the door to this very complicated change should be regulated by the state. Those wanting to slow the process down to make sure the interests of the public are protected offered 30 amendments to AB 207 during the floor debate in the Assembly.
Two areas of concern continue to stand out. First is the loss of local control. Municipalities would be left to depend on the statewide contract with no guarantee that local interests would be represented. Secondly, there is the concern over the level of commitment to PEG (Public, Educational and Government) channels for each municipality. Opponents of this "fast track legislation" feel these concerns are not adequately resolved. All 30 amendments failed.
Sound legislation must address the long-term effects and thoroughly attempt to identify and prevent unintended consequences. I am a firm believer in free enterprise and owned and operated a small business for 27 years. The threat to fair competition is greatest when government under-regulates businesses large enough to disrupt free enterprise.
In reality, the competitive advantages promoted by AB 207 would probably not apply to sparsely populated rural areas (65 percent of the state) since telecommunications companies appear likely to service only high density communities.
May 8, 2007
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Steve Hilgenberg lives in Dodgeville and represents Wisconsin's 51st Assembly District.