State House Hearing on Proposed Cable TV Access Legislation

State House Hearing on Proposed Cable TV Access Legislation

Representative Denise Provost, Democrat of Somerville, Middlesex County, was one of the early speakers at Wednesday’s Beacon Hill hearing on House Bill No. 3765 and Senate Bill No. 1531, An Act Promoting Consumer Choice and Competition. The hearing took place before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

The proposed bill would reduce the amount of time allowed in the state for cable franchise negotiations between an applicant and a municipality. It would also place a cap on equipment and facility payments to municipalities. It is strongly supported by Verizon Communications, Inc.

Rep. Provost opposed the measure. She said the current system has been in place for 30 years and works very well, allowing consumers to negotiate on a strong footing.

“There is nothing broken which needs fixing,” she said.

The room was packed when the hearing opened; a rough estimate of the total number of spectators would be close to 200, with 75 to 100 of them standing elbow-to-elbow at the back and in the aisles. About half sported “Keep It Local” lapel stickers.

Provost's statement spurred a round of applause among the spectators. The disturbance was promptly gavelled down by the Chair. I'm told that it was Rep. Barry Finegold who was presiding, though there were nameplates at the Chair's place for both Finegold and the other Joint Committee Chair, Sen. Michael Morrissey.

Under the proposed act, a city or town would be required to begin negotiations with a carrier within 10 days of receiving an application for a franchise. Within 90 days the municipality would be required to hold a public hearing on the financial, technical, and other qualifications to operate a cable television system. The application would have to be accepted or rejected within 5 days.

The testimony was done in a kind of batch process due to the number of people who signed up to speak. In addition to the Chair, Reps. Stephen DiNatale, Jennifer Benson, Vinny DeMacedo and Senator Bruce Farr heard the proceedings, according to the nameplates that were on display.

Much of the opposition throughout the morning came from people representing public access stations and local governments across the state. They described the proposed timetable as a “shot clock” process and claimed that the short time allowance would make meaningful negotiations virtually impossible.

Although a majority of the speakers opposed the bill, there was another side to be heard. One speaker commented that the time required for the process was substantially less than 90 days in several states—as few as 5 days in Wisconsin. Perhaps half a dozen Verizon supporters said the proposal would enhance competition and thus help to keep a lid on the cost of cable service.

(Photo above by Cambridge Community Television available under a Creative Commons license)

Comments

Mary, thanks for the report, and for joining others from CCTV at the hearing..one correction - Morrissey never showed up - it was Finegold who chaired the meeting. Curious that the committee was not there in full force.

Thanks so much for the correction; it was my first hearing in MA, and I don't know Morrissey/Finegold by sight, so I had to hope somebody would help me out if I got a fact wrong. I must say I was shocked and uneasy at how hard it was to know what was being said up front, or who was saying it. A principal reason for quoting Denise Provost was that she identified herself and her position clearly.

Still wondering what it means that only a portion of the committee showed up - is it a done deal? For which side?!

Thanks again, for coming AND reporting!

Yes, I did wonder that.

look who is in this picture:
http://www.openmediaboston.org/node/811

Fame at last! Thanks, Susan.

And that's a good piece by Jesse.

All--

The audio recording I made from Wednesday's hearing is Creative Commons licensed for free use by nonprofits, so long as you provide attribution. Some expressed interest in getting that file, which is available here:
http://www.archive.org/details/FullAudioOfJointCommitteeOnTelecommunicat...

--Jesse

Thanks so much Jesse, and for your coverage on OpenMedia!

Also, if anyone is interested, there is an interesting thread here:
http://www.universalhub.com/node/26519#comments

and an article in the July 26 Sunday Globe
http://www.boston.com/yourtown/newton/articles/2009/07/26/why_hub_isnt_a...