State lawmakers were faced with a wide variety of opinions Tuesday, on a proposal that would make it easier for video service providers to enter statewide markets. Nearly 75 people showed up to testify on the Video Competition Act before a joint legislative hearing. The act would allow providers to enter into a statewide video franchise agreement, instead of the current practice of negotiating with local governments.
AT&T Wisconsin President Scott VanderSanden says the bill will help increase competitive pricing for television services. AT&T is one of the main forces currently promoting the bill at the Capitol. VanderSanden says it is needed to help implement cable alternatives quickly on a statewide level.
However, concerns are being raised about the bill. Janet Jenkins, the Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection, testified before a legislative committee Tuesday that the bill could eliminate some vital protections provided to the public. She urged lawmakers to make sure established rules are kept in place, even though the current version of the bill would eliminate them. Jenkins is also concerned that the state will be left with little control over video providers.
Meanwhile, operators of Public Education and Government channels say the legislation could force many stations off the air. Pam Steitz directs the public access channel in Sun Prairie. She says eliminating local franchise agreements could seriously threaten the funding those stations rely on. Steitz says the programming requirements could also allow providers to drop public access channels if they don't meet thresholds for locally produced content.
Senate and Assembly versions of the proposal are still awaiting action in committee. The Assembly Speaker has said he is willing to take up the bill on the floor of that chamber. However, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson (D-Beloit) says there are concerns she wants addressed before they'll take any action on the proposal.