The AT&T statewide cable franchise bill is headed back to the Tennessee legislature. Not surprisingly, the Knoxville News Sentinel has once again taken the pro-big business, anti-consumer anti-local government position and endorsed it.
I guess AT&T and the KNS are going to keep at this until they wear down opponents of the bill. But just as AT&T and the KNS can trot out the same old propaganda in favor of the bill, opponents can program hotkeys with the same rebuttals from last time around.
KNS: "AT&T claims the legislation will bring competition for cable TV services, which in turn will lower prices for the average customer because of the choices available."
REALITY: Comcast, Charter, and Knology already operate in the Knoxville market, generating millions in franchise fees for local governments. These companies were able to negotiate local cable franchises and operate them for years. (And that's not counting satellite providers, who don't pay franchise fees but do provide competition.) Why can't AT&T do the same? What's stopping them? In fact, AT&T has been invited by local governments to submit proposals. Curiously, they haven't.
KNS: "AT&T has said, however, that local governments will continue to receive franchise fees of up to 5 percent, they will continue to control access to public rights-of-way, and they will continue to have locally produced programming."
REALITY: With local franchises, communities can negotiate their own franchise fees and included requirements for build-out, customer service and quality standards, and for making local community access channels available. These negotiations can take into account each community's unique needs. The statewide franchise legislation proposed last time around did not have these requirements or the requirements weren't as strict. According to the Tennessee County Services Association, "The proposals would set up a single entity that would grant franchising rights, which include local highway rights-of-way usage provisions. The proposal prohibits build out provisions. It also causes problems with consumer protection, public information channels, emergency notification access opportunities, and services to schools and libraries. It also limits our abilities in verifying the accuracy of payments, and our ability to perform meaningful applicant due diligence."
KNS: "Another aspect of criticism centered on a charge that AT&T would cherry-pick the wealthiest neighborhoods for service, leaving low-income and rural areas to fend for themselves. AT&T answered that it would apply nondiscrimination standards with regard to new entrants and that it has no reason or incentive to redline low-income or minority areas."
REALITY: From USA Today: "During a slide show for analysts, SBC (now AT&T) said it planned to focus almost exclusively on affluent neighborhoods. SBC broke out its deployment plans by customer spending levels: It boasted that Lightspeed would be available to 90% of its "high-value" customers -- those who spend $160 to $200 a month on telecom and entertainment services -- and 70% of its "medium-value" customers, who spend $110 to $160 a month. SBC noted that less than 5% of Lightspeed's deployment would be in "low-value" neighborhoods -- places where people spend less than $110 a month. SBC's message: It would focus on high-income neighborhoods, at least initially, to turn a profit faster."
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