Unfortunately for them, it's several years too late...
As we've been saying for years, the "franchise reform" bills the baby bells have been pushing state by state promise lower TV prices, but are really little more than legislative wish lists
that erode consumer protections, legitimize next-generation broadband "cherry picking," strip away eminent domain rights, and make lobbying easier for carriers. After dozens of states drank a little too much lobbyist juice, consumers in those states are waking up in bed with a ragged-looking AT&T or Verizon, and no lower TV prices anywhere in sight.
In AT&T's home state of Texas "reform" was passed quickly, but locals have noticed no savings, and a commission tasked with studying whether the bill actually helped consumers has mysteriously disappeared
after the fact.
Last week, Tennessee
woke up with a headache wondering where exactly the TV savings was that they were promised by AT&T lobbyists, who broke records for state lobbying spending to get a similar bill passed in their state. While AT&T's finally now offering TV service in the State, the deployments have been very selective, and the law there includes language prohibiting towns and cities from wiring themselves with broadband.
Wisconsin consumers recently realized
their lawmakers passed one of the least friendly "franchise reform" bills in the country. That law not only gave carriers the right to cherry pick next-generation deployment, but it also obliterated consumer protection laws that protected subscribers' rights to prompt repairs, ensured refunds for service outages, mandated notice of rate increases or service deletions, and forced carriers to provide a written notice of disconnection.
Does that sound like "reform" to you?
Michigan is the latest to come to their senses, the Detroit Free Press
suddenly realizing just how miserable these bills really are for consumers. The paper notes that by letting AT&T cherry pick profitable deployment markets and eliminating local consumer protections, said "reform" not only raised prices, but made Comcast more powerful; and while local communities used to have the power to do something about it, now they don't:
Now, three years after AT&T's champions in the Legislature crowed that Comcast's reign as the 800-pound guerrilla of Michigan cable service was over, Comcast remains the state's dominant provider, maintains a de facto wire-line monopoly in most its franchise areas, charges higher rates for basic cable service, and has far fewer legal obligations to the subscribers and communities it serves.
Despite the claims of mega-ISP lobbyists, there's absolutely nothing in the existing video franchise system in most states that prevented either AT&T and Verizon from entering the TV space. Verizon themselves even admitted
in a moment of candor that they were able to deploy FiOS quickly without any real problems under the previous localized franchise model. Apparently, that executive didn't get the talking points memo.
The real reason carriers wanted video franchise laws "reformed?"
Local towns and cities often hold phone and cable companies more accountable for poor service and limited penetration. The existing localized franchise model was the primary reason most rural cable customers even have cable TV and broadband service. Yes, municipalities also sometimes demand that carriers put in a little extra effort, and are occasionally unreasonable -- as anyone looking out for their own interests is. But these instances were demonized by lobbyists for political effect. Having the FCC boss personally lie for you
was a nice touch.
These bills are actually harming consumers
, and it appears that most people are waking up to this fact far too late. Despite the endless failed promises, phone company lobbying astroturf front groups like TV4US
are still using the promise of lower TV prices to push these franchise reform laws in additional states. TV4US even gets quoted in news reports
as a consumer group concerned with high cable prices. An extra point for irony.
The entire thing has been one elaborate, ingenious con, but well-lobbied state politicians continue to pretend that these laws help consumers. The media certainly hasn't helped. When bloggers and technology journalists can be bothered to cover this issue (droll video legislation is not exactly an eyeball grabber or advertising engine), they've usually taken the cost saving claims of carrier lobbyists at face value. It should be interesting to see how many more states the ILECs can con before the public really wakes up from what's been a major disinformation bender.