It’s not that Boca Raton Deputy City Manager George Brown doesn’t like consumers.
“We just don’t want the state messing around in local business,” he told The Boca Raton News.
Which is why Boca’s city council has approved a resolution opposing HB 529 – called the Consumer Choice Act of 2007, a proposed law dealing with what it calls “video programming” but what amounts to what everyone else calls “cable TV.” Delray Beach has approved a similar resolution opposing the bill.
HB 529’s chief supporter is a group called FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks has mounted a national campaign to change the law and take cable TV franchise power away from local and county governments — putting it in the hands of the state.
“Under the current law, companies that want to provide video programming are required to apply for a franchise on a town-by-town basis,” says FreedomWorks Florida Coordinator Tom Gaitens. “This time-consuming and costly process acts as a barrier to competition as the application process is expensive and can take years to complete.”
Gaitens said this process “does not reflect developments in technology that have allowed phone, wireless, cable, satellite, and other providers to offer consumers choices in video programming options.”
HB 529 “allows consumers to take advantage of new technologies by streamlining the franchise application process for potential providers. When companies compete to provide service, consumers win through more choices and lower prices,” he said.
FreedomWorks has been involved in trying to change cable TV franchise law in Michigan, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, and Texas.
None of which impresses Boca’s Deputy City Manager Brown.
Generally, federal law creates a framework by which state and local governments can regulate cable systems. That framework allows state and local governments to create local franchise authorities (LFA) that license cable operators to provide services in a community. Federal law prohibits an LFA from awarding an exclusive franchise or unreasonably refusing to award an additional competitive franchise within its jurisdiction.
Although LFAs have the authority to grant multiple franchises within a given community, the national trend has been that nearly all local communities have only one cable provider.
Brown doesn’t disagree, but says there’s a reason for that.
“We only have one (cable TV provider” he says, “but that’s not because we haven’t’ asked — literally begged.” The market hasn’t responded because “they tell us they’re not interested in providing that service in this market.”
Translated, Brown says, that means cable TV operators want to cherry pick the market. “We want service throughout the city, or on some reasonable build out schedule, but they only want certain communities that are more appealing in terms of customers.”
Call The State
But Brown adds there’s an even bigger problem with taking cable TV franchise powers away from local government.
“It takes away a local government’s control of its own rights of way,” he says, and the state could then issue a franchise to string up wire in a city right of way.” The city would lose control over potential property damage and “aesthetic” issues, Brown says.
Another problem, Brown says, “is that these businesses in turn are using these rights of way to make money.” And with the city controlling the franchise, “in exchange for the privilege of making money off a public asset, the city gets something in exchange.”
And that not necessarily money, Brown says. The most important thing the city gets is that citizens have local access to the provider.
Not so under HB 529. Under the proposed legislation, customer complaints would have to be filed with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This would include ”service or billing issues,” he says, and would include larger policy type complaints. “All would have to be filed in Tallahassee.”
“Let’s be realistic,” he adds, “if someone is not getting service anyway, they’re going to call the city, but then we won’t have any authority to act upon them.”
But in general, Brown says, the question comes down to “home rule.”
“We don’t want the state messing around in local business,” he repeats, adding that even the ability for the city to negotiate with a provider for a local government channel, “would go away.”
Which is what Brown would like to happen with HB 529.
John Johnston can be reached at 561-549-0833, or at email@example.com