“Federal telecommunication legislation could slash cable access TV funding”

Here’s a story from our friends in the Tri-Cities. It examines the local effects of the proposed federal-level “Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act of 2005.” The proposed law, of course, has little to do with the laudable title. The Act, sponsored by Nevada Republican John Ensign, is actually about ending local franchises and any state or local control based on the ownership of the local ownership of rights of ways that telecom operators use. The story clearly identifies the centralizing* thrust of the legislation:

At its core, the legislation, would eliminate all local and state control…

The focus of the article is on monies paid to municipalities and especially to local access channels like our own AOC and looking at the issue, as this article does, from the point of view of how the federal law would effect local issues is something I am happy to see and makes for thought-provoking reading on how this would effect our own locality. Consider these remarks:

Through the franchise agreement between the city and Comcast, for instance, Batavia received about $229,200 in 2004, $137,500 of which went toward Batavia Access Television. And the larger the town, the more the charge. The city of Aurora received more than $1.1 million in 2004.

“Not only would it kill BATV but (it) would leave a big hole in our general fund budget,” said Alderman Jim Volk, who was the city’s representative on the BATV board for the past nine years.

Meredith Mercier/Daily Herald

Jenny Glick, operations manager of Batavia Access Television, tapes Monday evening’s Batavia City Council meeting at the government center.

The Batavia City Council went on record recently in opposition to the Consumer Choice Act, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, on July 27…

“There is no question that it would mean drastically less money for cities,” she [
Cheryl Leanza, principal legislative council for the National Leauge of Cities] said.

Leanza said she knows of no city that supports the legislation.

Stuart Chapman, a Hoffman Estates telecommunications consultant for cities and counties, agreed those fees would be cut quite a bit.

But in pursuing a very useful focus on costs the story does miss what I believe is the central issue in all legislation of this stripe, be it federal or state: the end of the universal service requirement. Upgrades to the current phone and cable networks would not have to include all the citizens of a community if they wanted to serve cable TV as these franchise agreements almost universally require. It’s no secret who the private corporations would leave out: any neighborhood that isn’t profitable as quickly as another gets built last. Any neighborhood that isn’t as profitable as any competing use for the company’s money (say buying other cable companies or buy wireless carriers) never gets service at all.

The loss of universal service is by far the biggest potential competitive advantage that the Baby Bells will garner by killing local franchises and it is worth noticing that they are willing to at least talk about continuing to pay fees to local governments but are not willing to brook discussion of universal service. That, my friends, is the point. In relatively homogenous communities as I understand the Tri-Cities to be that may not be a large practical issue. But in cities like our own with large historically and politically significant difference between neighborhoods it will be a huge step backward.

If the Batavia City council can vote to support the municipal franchise I don’t know why Lafayette’s city council can’t make itself heard as well–a resolution condemning the Ensign bill and urging that our representatives in Congress protect municipal property rights and self-determination could prove very useful.

*(It is an index of the poverty of what passes for conservatism these days that there is no echo of the outrage over the recent eminent domain issue–which really only acted conservatively in refusing to insist on a federal power to overturn local decision-making–when it comes to a massive federal taking of property rights from municipalities–the branch of government most responsive to local concerns. It’s not about individual rights and freedoms anymore, if ever it was; its about corporate interests being served.)

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