11 Dec State Assembly approves video franchising bill
Madison, Wis. – AB 207, a bill designed to intensify cable television competition in Wisconsin, has passed the State Assembly and remains one signature away from becoming law.
That signature would belong to Gov. Jim Doyle now that both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature have passed the bill, which would remove cable licensing responsibilities from municipalities and establish a single, statewide franchise for cable and video providers.
Under the bill, a statewide franchise would cost $2,000 annually, and provider companies seeking permanent franchises would apply to the state Department of Financial Institutions. The agency responsible for investigating consumer complaints would be the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
Proponents contend the bill would open the market for the likes of Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and other providers to openly compete on price and customer service.
AT&T, for example, has launched the much publicized U-verse, a new feature-rich video service. Others plan to bundle cable, phone, and wireless service.
Andrew Petersen, director of legislative and public relations for the Madison-based TDS Telecom, encouraged Gov. Doyle to sign the bill into law.
“Governor Doyle and his administration have been actively involved with the negotiations, improvements, and refinements made to AB 207 as it passed the Senate and now, the Assembly, by substantial margins,” Petersen said in a statement released after the Assembly vote. “We appreciate the governor’s thoughtful review of the legislation and encourage him to support this common-sense regulatory reform.”
Doyle spokesman Matt Canter said the Governor would review the bill before deciding whether to sign it, but he also noted that Doyle supports a more competitive landscape for cable TV service.
Opponents argue that the bill strips away consumer protections and does not require or even provide incentives for providers to replace existing copper connections with higher-speed fiber optic service. Some critics also fear that providers will not serve economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, creating a “red lining” of cable service.
Under the previous statute, cable and video providers were required to negotiate separate contracts with each municipality they serve.
• Joseph Savage: Road to cable TV choice and faster Internet runs through Madison
• Tom Still: In a fast-paced economy, lawmakers must pick up speed
• Jim Carlini: Does redefining universal service help bridge the digital divide?