Madison Leaders Point to Video Bill Flaws

July 16, 2007

MADISON - Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) raised concerns today that a video deregulation legislative proposal would weaken consumer protection, eliminate public access broadcasting and lead to massive utility cabinets that could be placed in homeowners' terraces and yards.

Cieslewicz and Black made their comments at a press conference on the terrace of a Madison homeowner. They were joined by a replica of a video utility cabinet to illustrate the dramatic impact this equipment would have on Madison neighborhoods.

"I strongly support video competition and lower prices, but not at the expense of consumer protection, public access programming, and some control over where these massive cabinets would be placed," said Cieslewicz. "We already have an effective system in place for regulation of video services through the local franchising system. Just this year, AT&T negotiated a franchise agreement with Milwaukee, the largest community in the state. This is a perfect illustration of why this poorly conceived state legislation is not needed."

"AT&T has waged an elaborate and expensive, but fundamentally dishonest, lobbying effort to deregulate cable TV in Wisconsin," said Rep. Spencer Black, author of the state's Cable TV Consumer Protection Law. "This bill, promoted as increasing competition, could well lead to just the opposite result. A little-noted provision in the AT&T bill will remove all oversight over mergers and changes in ownership of the cable franchise. Many mergers in the communications field, such as those that this bill will allow without review, have limited consumer choice, not enlarged it."

Cieslewicz and Black pointed to three primary flaws with the current version of the video deregulation legislation:

• Consumer protection: The proposal would weaken the current Cable TV Consumer Protection Law and would remove all oversight over mergers. Under current law, communities have the right to be informed in advance of a merger or change in ownership of a franchise and to object if the change would hurt consumers. Responsibility for oversight of consumer protection issues would be given to a single state employee, who would have no ability to actually sanction video service providers for any violations.

• Public access: The proposal would phase out all support for public access programming in three years, slamming shut the window through which citizens keep an eye on the actions of their elected leaders.

• Neighborhood impacts: The proposal limits the ability of local governments to regulate placement of the equipment that is associated with some forms of video service. AT&T, for instance, has estimated that it would have to place hundreds of massive utility boxes in front yard terraces and back yard utility corridors throughout the Madison area to deploy its service.

The video deregulation legislation (Senate Bill 107/Assembly Bill 207) is currently awaiting action by the state legislature's Joint Committee on Finance. It was passed on a fast-track process by the State Assembly earlier this year.

A picture of an actual AT&T video cabinet similar in size to the replica from today's press conference is available upon request.

Contact:
  • George Twigg, (608) 266-4611
  • Rep. Spencer Black, (608) 266-7521