An effort is underway at the Capitol to restore some controls over how the cable industry operates in Wisconsin.
Legislation signed into law just two years ago drastically deregulated the cable industry, which supporters said would help to bring competition and lower prices to Wisconsin consumers. The measure allowed video providers to negotiate statewide franchise agreements, rather than negotiating with each community where they want to have a presence.
However, UW-Madison telecommunications professor Barry Orton says that hasn’t happened. He says rates have continued to go up and the bill has allowed companies to cherry pick new areas for service, leaving those in rural or underdeveloped areas still with few options.
Legislation at the Capitol would roll back some of the changes approved by lawmakers in 2007. Orton says it would restore some local government control, give funding back to public access channels, and allow the Public Service Commission to regulate cable providers. The Department of Financial Institutions currently has control over franchise agreements, but Orton says they’re powers are basically limited to collecting complaints instead of resolving them. He says the PSC has the knowledge and the staff needed to help protect consumers.
The cable industry is already lashing out at the bill, arguing it would make it harder for them to do business in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Cable Communication Association Executive Director Tom Moore says prices have gone up because the cost of programming has gone up. He says the bill also ignores one of the biggest competitors facing providers right now by not adding regulations for satellite TV providers. Industry estimates have satellite TV in 35-percent of Wisconsin homes, but the industry faces few state regulations or fees.
The legislation is expected to receive a Capitol hearing in the coming months.