On Tuesday March 27, 2007 I attended a hearing at the state capitol in Madison regarding the proposed bill that would allow for statewide video franchises. While this may seem drab and insignificant to many, it was actually very interesting and I am hoping for a positive outcome – which to me, seems obvious.
The hearing room was packed and the hallways leading into the room were also filled with standing observers. The hearing generated a much larger crowd than they had anticipated and they eventually had to open an extra room down the hall and pipe the testimonies and responses through their sound system. This bi-partisan bill is one that will possibly create many changes for consumers and businesses in Wisconsin. It is much larger then just a matter of who will be offering video service.
Representative Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon) and Senator Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) have written and are sponsoring this proposed bill. From what I understood the political supporters of this bill feel this is only sensible considering the technology we have in today’s world. Currently when a cable company – which is currently held as a monopoly by Time Warner in our area – they need to negotiate with each and every municipality for a contract to service that area. This proposed bill would not only change the language from ‘cable’ provider to ‘video’ provider; but it would also allow for companies to negotiate their franchise fees with the entire state instead of each municipality.
Some individual community leaders seem to be against this bill as they are frightened the franchise fee will no longer go directly to them. They feel this can hurt their public local programming such as cable access channels in which the franchise fee (usually about 5%) pays for. However, it was also implied that many of the localities do not use the entire portion of the fee for such intended uses anyway. What was not mentioned during the time I was there – the intended 5 hour session went on for nine hours and we could not stay for its entirety – that cable access and PEG (Public, Education and Government) channels are only offered to paying cable subscribers as it is. And it was never said that these cities, towns and villages would not still retain the same amount of money as they are now. The opposition seems solely fear based.
Many democratic groups such as The League for Women Voters are also against this bill due to the unknown. They share the concerns about the PEG Channels and worry about income and racial discrimination. They feel that some people may not be able to pay for these services they deem necessity. However, once again, it was not mentioned that these are services that already require a hefty monthly fee.
The fact is, in this day and age we must have legislation that matches current society and its technologies. We must also allow for a competitive business market which would ensure better customer service, lower prices and a consistently improving product.
A big supporter of this bill is, of course, AT&T who is now offering video service through its new UVerse system. Wisconsin president of AT&T assured the committee and observers that the CEO of AT&T made the statement that the competition will be more than beneficial for the consumers.
Scott VanderSanden, president of AT&T Wisconsin, told the committee that when AT&T will enter the video market the "prices go down and service goes up." As simple as that.
This bill will also bring many jobs to Wisconsin as well as encourage new businesses to venture to our state. And everyone knows how much Wisconsin needs that very thing.
What this boils down to is that this is the first hearing regarding this bill. It will be debated by the committee on April 24th. After nine hours of testimony from both the opposition and the supporters, I feel they likely have more than enough information on which to base their decision. Amendments to the written proposed bill are likely to be made to level the playing field and perhaps make the opposition more comfortable with the bill in its end result.
This bill means more jobs for Wisconsin. Possible new businesses to our state. Better customer service, lower rates and a better product for our citizens. In my opinion, the positives of this bill far out weigh any possible concerns for negative outcomes. In fact, I really cannot see any reason to deny this bill.
Please contact your local legislators to show support for this bill. Let them all know that we do care and we do want a choice!!