Shreveport editorial urges caution on franchise bill

An editorial in the Shreveport Times urges legislators to be cautious when considering House Bill 699, the state-wide cable franchising bill.

Whether it’s “cable competition” or a “sweetheart deal,” the legislative proposal to give BellSouth a leg up into the world of television delivery service appears to be a case where technology again outstrips both the law and the public’s ability to comprehend.

The author tries to balance the competing issues of technology, fairness, and concern for the future of local government income and confesses some personal confusion on these fronts. (Some of that caution is justified–remarks in the story indicate that he or she thinks that the technology involved is fiber to the home. It is not; it is a brand of DSL.) It was particularly heartening to see the poorly covered issue of lost franchise fees revenues and the importance of universal service make it into this editorial.

Tinkering with the current cable TV landscape could put a cloud over the future of franchise fees paid by cable providers to local government, which is a chief reason organizations such as the Louisiana Municipal Association oppose the BellSouth bill. Local government also would lose leverage that now ensures cable operators provide service to all residents.

In the end the editorialist decides to opt for caution. And this is indeed wise: the best action when you’re uncertain about how to proceed is often to do nothing and see if the situation won’t clarify itself. The legislature would be wise to do the same. Once AT&T is actually providing the service it now promises the issues involved and AT&T’s committments to local communities will be much clearer. That will be soon enough to decide whether special legislation favoring the corporation would be useful to the people of Louisiana.