Cable War in Sacramento
Opponents say bill would kill community media.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
California legislators returned from a five-week summer vacation Monday to address hundreds of bills requiring final votes, including AB 2987, the controversial bill designed to help telephone companies get into the cable TV business.
The bill, which provoked multi-million dollar television advertising and campaign contributions last spring, will be discussed in a Senate Appropriations Hearing on Aug. 14. The legislative session adjourns Aug. 31.
A priority of Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, AB 2987 would let telephone companies compete for part of California’s $5.3 billion-a-year cable industry by taking away local cable franchises and putting them in the hands of the state.
AT&T, Verizon and other companies who support the bill—and stand to make a lot of money from the deal—promise cheaper cable television rates and more viewing choices while critics say these telecom giants would selectively target services to affluent neighborhoods and undermine community media resources.
Suzanne St. John-Crane of Community Media Access Partnership (CMAP) says the speaker has not fulfilled promises to amend the language of the bill to preserve funding for Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access channels.
“We’re where we were a couple of months ago,” St. John-Crane says.
Monterey Assistant City Manager Fred Cohn, who is also an Access Monterey Peninsula board member, agrees with St. John-Crane.
“Senator Escutia told the speaker that he needs to deal with PEG. Despite what the speaker and what the industry says, it’s still harmful to community media,” Cohn says. “We’ve seen promises and assurances but we haven’t seen any amendments.
“As it is currently written, the resources made available for PEG are less than today, the channel capacity is less, and the opportunity for institutional networks is less than it is today,” Cohn says. “So when the senator and Núñez say they’ve made the changes, with all due respect we disagree.”
Telecom companies, however, aren’t complaining about the bill’s wording.
Erin Garvey, executive director of Californians for Technology and Video Choice, a coalition funded in part by Verizon, says that AB 2987, as it is currently written, will provide greater revenue for cities in the long run.
“In the end the 5 percent [franchise fee currently paid to cities] will add up to be more revenue,” Garvey says. “The more competitors you get into the cable business, the greater that 5 percent will be. I don’t know if the [cities] are looking that far ahead.”
The League of California Cities, which includes Monterey and Salinas, has refused to support AB 2987. Both Monterey and Salinas City Councils have written the Legislature to oppose the legislation.