Friday, April 13, 2007

Stand up for the local rights

This week I learned a lot about video franchise laws in Illinois. I will be honest, before doing some research and reporting I knew very little about what these laws entailed and their importance to the media, the public and preserving democracy in the press. Wednesday the Illinois House will meat in Springfield for a Telecommunications Committee Hearing regarding House bill 1500, which was proposed by AT&T.

Basically the bill entails the following: Phone companies want to enter the video cable market to boost their revenues, however they do not want to negotiate individually with each community in each state. The phone companies fought for a federal video franchise bill, allowing them to enter the market without paying the negotiation fees that are required under the current law, but lost. The phone companies don't want to have to go through local negotiations because these negotiation fees cost companies money. However, they allow for funding for public access, education and governmental cable channels (PEG), community resources, build-out rules (so cable companies don't just service upper-class neighborhoods) and provide for other community media infrastructure.

The Argument: On one hand, allowing phone companies to enter the cable market would increase competition, thus driving down cable prices for consumers. A study was released last week from the Heartland Institute showing that this savings could be as much as $115 annually for the average Illinois consumer customer. Read the full report here. Opponents are concerned that the legislation will pull funds from pubic access channels; channels who give people a voice or the opportunity to learn. They are also fearful that the law discriminates against neighborhoods by allowing the phone companies to only serve who they choose and it weakens consumer protections. There are numerous coalitions and activist groups who are against video franchise reform. See and

What do you think?? Will moving video franchising to the state level benefit the media, or will it pull away from the local communities, further monopolizing the industry? I think the law needs to remain as is. There is no need for the state to be given all the power. As a journalist, I think it is crucial to keep PEG channels available, after all they give people a place to express themselves and voice their opinions. The savings that is estimated in the study from increased competition isn't large enough to sway me in the other direction (savings would be roughly $8 a month, you could save that much by skipping your daily Starbucks run twice!) People need to have a say. Local communities need to have a say in how they receive their media and deserve a choice.

Just think...without PBS there wouldn't be the opportunity for the Northwestern News Report to air and spread its excellence to all of Chicago!


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