State video bill dies in committee, but telcos look ahead

The Washington legislative clock has run out on SB6003, the Qwest-backed video franchise bill which would have deepened the digital divide and limited funding streams for community TV. The bill is dead for this session, thanks in part to quick opposition by Washington citizen and consumer groups.

However, the FCC's recent video franchise ruling will reshape the franchising landscape to favor telecom companies' interests - if it withstands likely court challenges. And in Washington State, another bill backed by the telecom industry (SB 5592), has made it out of the Senate Telecommunications Committee and will have another chance for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee. The new bill would establish a bipartisan task force to review the state's entire telecommunications policy framework, including statewide video franchising. But the task force's proposed membership would stack the deck dramatically in favor of corporate perspectives on what's right for Washington, sidelining consumer and local government voices.

Making an effort to review state telecommunications policy in a careful way is certainly the right move. As is well-known, the US lags far behind many otherwise comparable countries in broadband deployment, and we need a variety of perspectives beyond the federal government and telecom corporations in order to find our best way forward quickly.

But SB 5592 doesn't do that - it creates a panel dominated by corporate players, designed to produce results which favor corporate interests rather than what the public needs.

The bill must be amended to allow citizen and community voices to participate fully in this re-write of Washington State's telecom laws. Specifically, the bill should do the following:

1. Consumers should be the dominant voice on the task force. The bill currently includes only a single consumer representative. The task force should also include a member from the Attorney General's Public Counsel's Office, and it should require at least as many consumer representatives as industry representatives. Industry representatives should be limited to no more than two: one from a cable company, and one from a local telephone company. There should also be at least two representatives from competitive telecommunications companies like Electric Lightwave, Clearwire or Speakeasy Networks.

2. The task force should hold public hearings, at least three, and one of which should be east of the Cascades.

[analysis by Mike Meisman]

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