Video franchise bill is a power grab for the state and big telecom

[Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial]

State lawmakers are looking today [Feb 20] at a bill that supporters, chiefly Qwest Communications, proclaim would promote competition in cable TV services. Perhaps so, but the heart of the bill is a wholesale grab of power from cities, counties and communities.

The biggest threat is likely to be to lower- or even middle-income communities. Magnolia would surely receive the benefits of competition, but Greenwood, Beacon Hill and the Central District might wait for the trickle-down of service.

Democratic Sen. Erik Poulsen’s bill, SB6003, will have a hearing in the Senate’s Water, Energy and Telecommunications Committee this morning. Lawmakers should let it die, just as Colorado legislators did earlier this month with a similar bill in Qwest’s home state.

Phone companies see state takeovers of local authority for cable franchising as a way to jumpstart their own entry into competition with existing operators, who have locally negotiated franchises. The Senate bill hands key powers to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

While the bill says service couldn’t be denied because of subscribers’ income, it wipes out local governments’ main way to enforce equal service by requiring an entire city be covered. In a news release, James Kelly of the Urban League in Seattle said companies would be able to “cherry-pick” wealthier neighborhoods. That nasty prospect would undercut competition’s gains.

article originally published at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/304278_edit3.html.

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