Cable Franchising Bills No Help To Consumers: Survey

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State cable franchising bills have not led to lower cable rates, and support for public access channels has eroded in those states with such schemes, according to a survey conducted by the Alliance for Community Media and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

The survey, which included 140 public access center officials from 18 states where cable is no longer locally regulated, showed that 66% of the respondents said basic cable rates have increased in their communities, even after the arrival of competition.

In testimony in support of many of these bills, supporters asserted that the quick arrival of competition, enabled by such bills, would lower consumer rates. Only 1% of survey respondents said rates decreased after the bills were passed.

Competitors have taken advantage of the new regulatory regime: 68% of respondents said competitors, including AT&T and Verizon, have applied for state franchises. However, incumbents are taking advantage of the regulatory change, too. Fifty-two percent of respondents said legacy operators have applied to be regulated by the state.

The ACM is most interested in the impact to its members, and the rest of the survey had to do with the current state of financial and other support for local cable production. Twenty percent of the respondents, from communities in California, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin said their funding had decreased since the passage of state regulatory bills.

Twenty-six percent of those polled said they've lost free cable service to libraries, school and other public buildings; and 41% said they've lost or had a reduction in benefits for the operation of local institutional networks.

The ACM said it would use the survey information to seek legislative or regulatory action that will preserve localism provided by PEG channels.

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