Telco’s Plot New Challenges to Localism and Cable Broadband

The telephone broadband giants—AT&T and Verizon—say they are stepping up efforts to scuttle the local cable franchising process. According to Light Reading, they “are working hard at the state level to push statewide franchises into law…” While the phone lobby hopes that Congress will pass the Stevens/Barton/Rush telecom give-away bill this session, they acknowledge that they were blind sighted by the fierce support for network neutrality. “For many of us it’s just been really frustrating,” says Jeff Brueggeman, AT&T VP of regulatory planning and policy in Washington.” As noted in Light Reading, Brueggeman told a conference that he and his colleagues didn’t see the net neutrality log-jam coming. So that’s why they plan to continue state-by-state, to secure laws that preempt the ability of local governments—and their citizens/residents—to ensure broadband services really benefit the public.

Both Stevens and Joe Barton made statements yesterday urging Congress to pass the law. Hopefully, they will fail. Their bill doesn’t really provide for video competition. It just sets the stage for a more powerful broadband monopoly.

But, we want to discuss localism for a moment. There has been a long-standing federal policy that our electronic communications system is supposed to empower and serve local voices—real communities. Much of the current debate on the FCC’s media ownership rules involves effectively defining and ensuring such localism. But there has been no more meaningful policy supporting localism in the electronic media than cable franchising. For whatever its flaws, it provides the only real opportunity for actual community members to play a key role shaping multichannel broadband systems (including ensuring local programming needs).

We hope that with a new Congress—assuming the Barton/Stevens/Rush conglomerate give-away fails—will look anew at the role of localism in the debate about Telco broadband video service. Meanwhile, further state pre-emption [already passed in Texas, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and New Jersey -with California soon to also formally approve] must be vigorously fought.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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