Our very own Bob Johnson is scheduled to appear on CNBC today at 2:50pm EST to discuss the benefits and prospects of franchise reform legislation currently moving through the House of Representatives. Tune in if you can!
Dave Ralis is a cable consumer in real need of competition. If you read past the CEO pay issue he opens with, he makes a very compelling argument of why the current cable franchise system is broken. Increasing rates and no consumer choice or control.
Late yesterday the House Telecom Subcommittee released the bipartisan Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act that would create a 10-year national franchise for video providers. Energy and Commerce committee chair Joe Barton – who leads the committee that has the jurisdiction over communications legislation – had this to say: "This bill will produce an explosion of opportunity for American workers, and American consumers will get an array of video services that were unimagined just a few years ago.” While it is too early to say much about the what’s in the bill, we applaud the committee for keeping progress moving on behalf of consumers who have waited too long to reap the rewards of a truly competitive marketplace for cable.
The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing this Thursday, March 30, on the bill.
National Journal reported Friday that bipartisan talks broke down on a streamlined bill to create a national video franchise. Leaders in the House Energy & Commerce committee a few weeks back agree in principle about provisions to be included in the streamlined bill. A hearing in committee is expected this week on the bill and we hope that 1) the bill keeps moving so consumers can begin enjoying cost savings like cable customers in Keller, TX are seeing now; 2) bipartisan agreement can be reached again so that a good bill comes out of committee; and 3) side issues don’t disrupt the progress of the bill. For consumers sake, Congress must act to modernize the cable franchise system to inject much needed competition across the country for video service. Cable companies will use just about any tactic to slow the progress of this legislation down and that will result in people who work hard for their paycheck, will be stuck paying the (more expensive) bill.
That is the question that John Battelle, the leading authority on the Internet search industry, ponders in this entry. He suggests that in the same way search engines like Google changed how the Internet is used, a ranking system that melds Neilsen ratings, Technorati – a blog search and ranking tool, and video carriers together to get real time answers to the question, “What are people tuned into right now?” It’s a fascinating thought given that new competitors into the video market are deploying advanced IPTV networks which would increasing lend accessibility to such data. If Congress allows these new networks to be built out without the burden of getting local franchises in every single city or county, I suspect Battelle’s guess that TV ranking is nearer than his 5 year guess.
Endgadet has a good post on a content deal that Verizon has struck with CBS to carry its programming on the network provider’s FiOS network. This will offer consumers greater choice in delivery of CBS programming. And as the post points out it should stimulate other content producers to sign-up with IPTV providers:
This may well be the largest IPTV agreement of its kind to date, and should hopefully serve to encourage other content providers to open up their own offerings to Internet rebroadcast too, which would let us finally retire our unsightly old roof antenna for good.
These new fiber networks are igniting a revolution allowing consumers to have real choices of what they want to watch and how they want to get it.
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about how broadband will open new opportunities for consumers. BobR on MobileRead.com has a post about AOL’s In2TV broadband video service. The service requires at least DSL or Cable modem bandwidth currently to stream a currently limited selection of programs. BobR writes about the minor frustrations but general likes what he sees. Imagine what consumers could get when true broadband networks are deployed – HD quality programming in a fraction of the time that today’s programs take to load, content from any producer, not just the networks. When cable and telecom companies are forced to compete for the consumer, they will innovate to offer better products, better prices, better service. If Congress removes the franchise regulatory hurdles, the day when BobR no longer is frustrated by buffering hiccups will be sooner rather than later.
The cable trade association, NCTA, launched an organization Wednesday funded exclusively by cable, co-chaired by a DC Lobbyist and one outside organization. The kicker here is that the site misleadingly lists a variety of groups that cable alleges oppose video choice for consumers. And I’m being generous by saying the site is misleading. To see C4CC board member Hector Flores’ name used as a “critic” of video choice is just laughable.
In the same week that cable attacks video choice supporters, they turn around and manipulate statements made by organizations who truly care about their constituencies and pass it off as legitimate.
Cable is losing the battle of ideas, so they’re going after anyone they can.
Good (but still early) news out of Congress (via Reason Foundation’s blog, IPDemocracy, Multichannel News) today that the bipartisan leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee – the committee considering franchise reform legislation - have reached agreement on granting a national franchise to new entrants in the cable business. The exact details of what is in the bill remains to be seen but this is a BIG step forward. Talks among these leaders have been on going since last November. This breakthrough sets the stage for a mark-up of a national franchise bill next week. Consumers across the country will be able to enjoy the benefits that consumers in select cities like Keller, TX of true competition to cable – lower rates, better service and more choices. Of course we can’t get ahead of ourselves, but we can feel more optimistic that Congress hears the needs of cable customers and is making progress on a solution.
Today’s Washington Post runs an expose on Comcast’s politically connected hires in Maryland, which raises eyebrows as to whether or not potential competitors can get a fair deal in the state. The most prominent of these hires is none other than Governor Ehrlich’s wife who hosts a program that is only available as a pay-per-view selection and appears to be of little to no programming value. Another factor that should make consumers and those who care about good government shudder is the manner in which the relationship with Comcast and Ehrlich’s wife has been handled:
In June 2003, when the governor vetoed a bill that would have stopped Comcast and other companies from shifting the state tax burden to Delaware holding companies, the advocacy group Progressive Maryland publicly questioned whether the first lady's job posed a conflict. The governor's office dismissed the allegation.
Soon after, a pregnant Kendel Ehrlich announced she was leaving Comcast to have her second son. There was no public announcement when she returned, but her salaried job as a "production manager" reappears on her husband's disclosure forms for 2004. She is not required to disclose how much she is being paid and would not say, when asked.
The full article details a case in Prince George’s County, MD where cable competitor StarPower was applying for a franchise and found itself on the receiving end of a 11th hour demand for $400,000 improvements that ultimately snuffed out StarPower’s application. The County Executive at the time was Wayne Curry, Jr., who now consults for Comcast.
The stories continue: the University of Maryland Board of Regents where a string of well connected folks have dual roles as Regents and employees of Comcast or firms that have Comcast as a client. This little trick stood out for me:
Another regent, lawyer Leronia A. Josey, found an unusual way to satisfy the ethics requirement when Burch contacted her about a job in 2000, one year after she had joined the board.
"I had to resign, and then I was reappointed," Josey said, describing the maneuver that allowed her to become a regional director of government and community relations. The former regent, who now consults with Comcast, said she did not even miss a meeting.
I suspect there may be many more stories like this across the country. Does your local cable provider have “interesting” relationships with your city, county or state elected officials?