Anyone else noticed the ads on Time Warner Cable lately that are agitating against letting "mega-telcos" get their way in the Legislature, which (we're told) would lead to only rich people getting cable TV? I'd assumed these spots had to do with HB789, but wasn't sure what TWC's angle was. Now I see.
The bills would remove certain barriers to competition such as unequal treatment and take out ambiguities that lead to lawsuits, said sponsor Phil King, R-Weatherford. The legislation would affect cable TV, wireless and landline phone service, Internet and other video companies.
The first bill, House Bill 789, overwhelmingly passed the House last month, and the second part, HB 3179, was approved by the Regulated Industries Committee Tuesday and will be eligible for debate by the full House if it is cleared by the Calendars Committee.
"We've regulated this to death," King said. "This is aimed at allowing new competitors to come in and fight for business and remove unnecessary legislation."
The Time Warner ad claimed passage would lead to redlining, where cable companies could pick and choose which markets they want to serve, said Ray Purser, vice president of public affairs for the company. A similar ad was placed in Sunday's Houston Chronicle.
Current law mandates that telecommunications companies must get separate franchises in each city they want to service. If a city grants a franchise, the company must serve all residents within the municipality, Purser said.
King's legislation would give franchises automatic rights to do business in any city in Texas and would allow companies to pick and choose who they serve, Purser said.
"It is state-sanctioned redlining," he said. "It allows telecommunications providers to only build in the wealthier neighborhoods. We are trying to educate the consumer on the fact that it is bad public policy to allow redlining."
King said consumers benefit the most from competition, and cable companies such as Time Warner are upset because they have had a monopoly on the market for so long and don't want new competitors.
"The cable companies' arguments are not valid," he said. "What they're promoting is bad policy. They want to continue the monopoly and I don't think the legislators are buying it, so they're going to the public."
Hoping to compete with cable companies, SBC recently announced plans for a new project to provide cable service, and King's legislation would help push that initiative forward.
The Austin Chronicle notes that these bills are another form of intereference in municipal revenue by the State Lege.
Municipalities can also generate revenue through leasing rights-of-way, through fees charged to cable and telecom providers in exchange for the use of public streets. Last year, Austin took in just under $22 million in rights-of-way fees from cable and telecom providers. But under HB 3179, cities would no longer be able to negotiate right-of-way use agreements. A statewide standard would determine such things as the maximum number of PEG (public educational government) channels any cable provider was required to offer, and right-of-way fees would be replaced by a statewide 3.95% fee on each sale of a communications service. The precise provisions are still to be worked out (should the bill advance), but municipalities fear a legislated sweetheart deal for providers, with a consequent loss in revenue for cities.