Media/telecom odds and ends in the Washington Legislature

The Washington State Legislature will consider a handful of bills dealing with media and telecommunications issues during this year's short legislative session. Live issues include protecting freedom of speech for student journalists, a proposed initiative to expand high-speed broadband deployment statewide, and a resolution asking Congress to overrule the FCC's recent deregulation of media cross-ownership rules. Read on for details on specific bills!

Broadband deployment:
House Bill 2559 and Senate Bill 6438 would create a new statewide initiative aimed at deploying high-speed broadband to communities across the state, starting with a mapping/ascertainment project involving public, private and nonprofit sector representatives, and guaranteeing local involvement and accountability. The project would be modeled after the existing K-20 network. Update (23 Jan): House Communications Committee passes bill. Senate Telecom committee will hold hearing on Jan 29.

Last year's Senate Bill 5120 calls for a statewide survey of broadband deployment to households, with the long-term goal of extending high-quality service to everyone. Media activists have suggested several improvements to the common-sense bill. The Senate Commerce committee approved the bill in the 2007 session, but there is no House conterpart.

Student press freedom:
Last year the state House passed a bill guaranteeing editorial independence for student publications. However, the Senate version of the bill, SB 6449, is not yet scheduled for a hearing. The measure awaits action in the Judiciary committee, where the main obstacle appears to be the opposition of committee Vice Chair Rodney Tom. A broad coalition of journalists, educators and free speech advocates are supporting the bill. Update (31 Jan): The Senate Judiciary Committee does not plan to hold a hearing on this bill; it is effectively dead.

Media ownership:
Representatives Deb Wallace and Bob Hasegawa have introduced a resolution asking Congress to pass the Media Ownership Act, which would overrule the FCC's fly-by-night rule change last December, allowing media companies to control newspapers and TV/radio stations in the same cities. The symbolic resolution will be considered by the House Technology, and Energy & Communications committee on Jan. 30. Update (30 Jan): committee approves resolution.

Video franchising:
Apparently dead this year is a bill (SB6003/HB1983) which would allow Qwest and other telecommunication companies to offer cable-like video services statewide, while avoiding requirements to support community television (or "PEG" channels), to serve underprivileged areas, to provide high standards of local customer service, or to abide by net neutrality principles. Reclaim the Media testified against this bill last year, and its supporters are unlikely to be able to resurrect it.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey