Published on Save Access (

OH: Cable bill stirs access concern

By saveaccess
Created 04/29/2007 - 9:20am

from: News Herald [1]

Cable bill stirs access concern
Jenny May/

Mentor among cities opposed to Ohio Senate bill that limits rights for individual towns

Each week, Mentor resident Sara Shaner looks forward to watching Channel 12, her city's local cable-access channel.
There, she finds information on upcoming events and area businesses, and even a little city history she might not have known.

"It's a wonderful source of information," Shaner said. "It's so interesting. I love watching the Video Journal program, and I turn the channel on to watch the City Council meetings. I also want to see events going on and, say, if the trash pickup is pushed back a week for some reason. It's very valuable."

Soon, however, Shaner and other Ohioans may find themselves without the local channels they so enjoy.

Senate Bill 117, which proposes statewide video franchising agreements, is currently under discussion by the Ohio Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Dayton, the legislation would allow cable companies to negotiate a single statewide franchise agreement to deliver television and other broadband services.

AT&T and other telecommunications companies are largely responsible for drawing up the statewide contract, which would essentially eliminate the community-by-community deals that cable companies engage in now.

Mayors and public-access TV groups across the state are fighting against the legislation, which they believe is slanted to help the telecommunications industry.

Fearing the worst
Opponents are largely concerned about three aspects of S.B. 117 - communities possibly losing franchise fee revenue, local cable access channels and control over rights of way.
Earlier this week, several groups and individuals appeared before the Energy and Public Utilities Committee to testify against the legislation.

Among them was Mentor Public Information Officer Kathie Pohl.

"We are not against AT&T, we just don't believe we need this," Pohl said. "Every city in Ohio has a nonexclusive contract, so anyone is able to come in and compete. AT&T just didn't want to go through the same process as everyone else. Rather than going to the municipalities to enter into local franchise agreements, they want one statewide contract."

Several cities, including Mentor, have passed resolutions opposing S.B. 117.

Mentor City Council took things a step further by also approving a Video Competition Agreement authorizing AT&T to provide video competition there.

"Mentor's passage of the Video Competition Agreement proves that the state bill is not needed," Pohl said.
Those opposed to S.B. 117 note that it would likely move local-access channels further up the TV dial and require consumers to have digital cable to receive them.

By forcing consumers to purchase a more expensive package to continue to receive local access channels, cable TV companies are the only ones who stand to benefit, they say.
"Local-access channels are valuable community tools that keep the citizens informed," said state Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township, who opposes the bill as written.

The legislation does not specifically state that franchise fees payable to communities would be eliminated, but it also does not state that communities are entitled to them.
A change in the definition of "gross revenues" in the legislation has community leaders worried that franchise fees will be a thing of the past.

Communities typically receive 5 percent of gross revenues that a cable company generates in that area.

Mentor, for example, stands to lose $20,000 annually in franchise revenue if S.B. 117 is passed as is.

The loss of right-of-way control by communities would mean that cable companies could place utilities wherever they wish, without input from community officials.

"A big metal box in the middle of a retail area probably isn't going to bother anyone," Grendell said. "A big metal box in an upscale area could be offensive."

Gates Mills Mayor Connie White is especially concerned over this.

"It's just one more thing that we have no control over," White said. "I think those boxes are an abomination. I feel so sorry for the people who have those sitting on their tree lawns because there's no way to hide them. In Akron, they get a lot of graffiti on them, and don't think that won't happen here."

The Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association, which represents 120 communities, will write to Jacobson, stating that the association would like to see some aspects of the bill changed or clarified.

"We are not opposing Senate Bill 117, but we are opposing some aspects of it," said Willoughby Mayor David Anderson, a member and former president of the association. "Access to public right of way is a worry, but our main concern is making sure we've got our public-access channels."

The fact that the legislation would allow cable companies to handpick whom they can offer cable service to is yet another concern.

"It's cherry picking," Pohl said. "Those people who spend the most money will be the ones they go after. It's unconstitutional."

Tuned in
Greg Faul, Jacobson's legislative aide, said the senator is listening to these points and intends to make changes to the bill as it passes through committees.

"The three main concerns we've heard is the local access channels, the right of way and the possible loss of franchising fees," Faul said. "We've been getting a lot of letters about these issues, and we will be taking them into consideration as we make changes to the bill. Obviously, there's always going to be some people who aren't happy with it."

While many are opposed to S.B. 117, the legislation does have proponents.

Karyn Candisky, spokeswoman for AT&T Ohio, said the legislation's goal is to update cable industry rules.
"There's a lot of proponents, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Communications Workers of America, and many other business and labor organizations," Candisky said. "The cable industry rules were written 30 years ago. They need to be updated. The most important benefit is that consumers will have more choices and better products at competitive prices."

The Ohio Telecom Association, a statewide trade association that promotes the interests of telecommunications companies serving and employing Ohioans, also commends the bill.
The OTA represents 42 telecommunications providers, three wireless providers and more than 100 associate member companies that supply goods and services to the telecommunications industry.

"This legislation will streamline the process to give Ohio consumers more choice for video programming. More choice means more competition, better service and lower prices," said Charley Moses, OTA president. "This bill recognizes the state of today's vibrantly competitive telecommunications environment.

"Senate Bill 117 is significant because it is a natural evolutionary step in allowing telecommunications companies to provide additional services to Ohio consumers and invest dollars in Ohio. It will eliminate roadblocks for companies and allow the market to work."

Local leaders aren't so sure.
"Communities are worried about losing local control completely," Grendell said. "This is the first time for something like this, and we have to do it very carefully. These are important issues. This is like a genie in a bottle - once you let it out, you can't get it back in."

Source URL: