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Impact of bill on local TV worries councilman

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Associated Press and Gazette Staff
November 9, 2007

Are happy days here again? Will competition force cable TV prices down and TV choices up?


Or will Wisconsin cities lose a valuable source of income? Will consumers have even less clout when it comes to getting the cable company to respond to their problems? Will the local cable-access TV stations disappear?


No one seemed to have the answers this morning, the day after the state Senate passed a bill that could change how local consumers get their TV service.


AT&T lobbied intensely for the bill and is expected to take advantage of is provisions.


Similar bills have been passed in 13 other states, but the promised benefits have not come true in those states, said Paul Williams, a Janesville City Council member who testified against the bill.


The Janesville city council opposed the bill. Williams said this morning that he worries that the $550,000 annual fee the city receives from Charter Cable will be cut back and that the local cable-access channels will have to shut down for lack of funding.


AT&T’s 15 lobbyists promised lower rates and more choices for consumers. AT&T spent $205,451 lobbying the bill through June 30, state records show.


“I doubt if (the lobbyists) are up there looking out for the consumer,” Williams said.


“This is not about choice, this is not about consumers. ... It’s about profit. It’s about big multinational corporations coming into Wisconsin,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.


Erpenbach and Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, voted against the bill. Sens. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, and Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, voted for it. The vote was 23-9.


The Senate rejected attempts to change the bill by bolstering consumer protections, helping fund community-access channels and keeping call-center jobs in Wisconsin.


“There are always winners and losers, but on the whole the big winners are residents of this state who want to be able to have competition when it comes to their video product,” said bill sponsor Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee.


The proposal passed the Assembly earlier. It does away with local cable TV franchise agreements. Instead, a single statewide lifetime license costing $2,000 a year would be issued.


The bill calls for local cable deals to remain in effect for three years. The state, instead of local governments, would oversee cable TV providers.


Gov. Jim Doyle has generally supported the proposal. He could sign it as early as December.



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