Papers across the state carry news of an extraordinary pair of meetings with the Governor to discuss a possible veto of HB 699, BellSouth’s state-wide video franchise bill. The Times-Picayune, The Advocate, and the Gannett papers (Lafayette) all carry the story.
In a nutshell: About 30 mayors and local officials trooped down to the Governor’s office to urge her to veto the bill. Bill Oliver, president of BellSouth Louisiana, and the bill’s legislative “authors” were allowed equal time. Nobody knows what the Governor will do. But she only has until July 11th to decide; that is when the bill becomes law without her signature.
But we all know what we should do, do we not? You know the drill. Call and write the Gov; then call and write your friends and relatives–especially those across the state–to urge that they too let Blanco know that she should veto a bill designed to benefit primarily one giant corporation at the expense of local communities. The arrogant act of the state stripping local governments of their rights to control and write contracts regarding the property they own and maintain in order to make life easier for a huge out of state monopolist should make it easy to oppose the bill on the simple principle of sustaining local control. But the fact that HB 699 would make it public policy to forbid local governments to do anything to make sure that whole local community is served and not just the favored few when a corporation wants to use public property should make the law worthy of a veto on public policy grounds. It’s rural areas and poorer areas of urban centers–those left out now–that will suffer. Blanco needs to hear that the public understands that a bill without “build-out” requirements is only competition for (some of) the urban rich and the shaft for everyone else.
Toll-free: 1-866.310.7617 (This toll-free number is not always picked up. Try it first but be prepared to whip out your cell and call the alternate number.)
Alternate: (225) 342-0991 (Nice lady answers the phone and takes your brief message.)
Fax: (225) 342-7099
Web-based email: Email the Governor (the webmail script does not execute correctly on my setup–though it apparently works for some; the embedded email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org –it might be wiser to use that than to trust the webmail form.
The stories are actually a lot of fun to read, at least if you have a slightly perverse taste for telecom policy maneuvers.
On the issues:
Under current law, cable providers and other video-service providers that use public rightsof-way must negotiate franchise agreements with municipalities and compensate them for the use. (T-P)
Local governments argue that House Bill 699 would erode their control over rights of way and franchise agreements. (Advocate)
Local officials said they are concerned the telecommunications companies would not provide service to rural and poor communities.
Another concern is that the bill would strip some local governments of the authority to control companies’ access to public property to put in infrastructure, said Dan Garrett of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, Inc. (Advocate)
Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris said a major concern is the bill does not require telephone companies to provide universal access, as cable franchise agreements do. (Gannett)
Holden conceded that the bill would not affect East Baton Rouge Parish. He said that could change later down the road, citing a push in Congress for a national franchise.
“I don’t want to start watching the snowball effect,” he said. (Advocate) [Note: A frequently expressed concern is that the Bells are using their power to ram through legislation in state legislatures to convince the Congress to pass similar legislation on the grounds that the states want it.]
Qoutes of Note:
“If you lose at two levels, that’s two strikes. You still have another strike before you’re out,” Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden said. (T-P)
“The governor wants to hear both sides because this issue is one that has generated some strong viewpoints from both proponents and opponents,” said Blanco spokesman Roderick Hawkins. (Gannett)
“I wasn’t just overjoyed,” said Ellington, who accompanied BellSouth President William Oliver of New Orleans and CenturyTel representative Julia Thornton in the meeting in the governor’s private office.
Oliver said Blanco was very detailed, getting down to words and phrases in the bill.
“She was as interested in that bill as any bill I’ve ever seen her interested in,” Oliver said. (Gannett)
There is the usual qouta of misinformation: John Hill of Gannett has apparently forgotten that the cable companies signed onto the bill when they got to opt in to the bill’s provisions somewhere between House and Senate markups. His claim that the bill is a battle between the cable and telephone companies was never true and certainly is not now. Similarly, pay no attention to the panicky bluster of BellSouth tool Montgomery who would have you believe that local governments hired “every” lobbyist in town. No such thing–I was at many of the meetings discussing this bill and it was the same harried folks who are always trying to keep up with legislation for the locals every time–local governments don’t have the resources to hire new folks for a single piece of legislation, no matter how important. That is the province of the big guys.
A postscript–apparently the LMA is back on board after falteringly going neutral on 699 at the end of the fight in the senate. Presumeably whoever got to the Vinton Mayor Riggins didn’t have a lasting effect once the rest of the mayors really looked at the legislation. There’s a reason why such organizations have staffs — they’re paid to attend to their members legislative interests and know who is to be trusted and who is handing out BS. Trusting their judgment is usually a good idea, as the LMA has found out to their embarrassment on this issue.
Ok, now write or call Blanco; and get your friends and relatives do the same.