SBC, Verizon, win in Texas

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 08/12/2005 - 09:12

Unlike a lot of other folks, I'm not greatly worried that SBC and Verizon spent millions to influence some new laws in Texas. The Texas legislature, after a lengthy fight, has agreed to give the phone companies a statewide franchise to offer television content in Texas. This saves them the trouble of going to every community in Texas and negotiating individual franchises.

But let me also be perfectly clear--I don't like this, but--but--I'm not greatly worried by it. Two different things.

Here's why I don't like it.

First, it takes authority away from local communities and gives it to the state. This actually has nothing to do with telecom per se; I am always troubled when communities lose decisionmaking power.

Second, this will only be "fair" if the state also declares all cable companies immediately have a statewide franchise as well. Despite all the noise about "leveling the playing field," this bill just tilts in a different direction by changing the rules.

Here's why I'm not greatly worried.

Legislating old, copper-based technologies is a waste of time. If Texas legislatures think the campaign contributions will help them get re-elected, fine, but this whole effort is an exercise in futility. I can deliver video programming to anyone in Texas right here from Blacksburg, and I don't need to negotiate a franchise with anyone.

Are there still problems? You bet.

Some have objected to this on the grounds that it simply helps re-monopolize local markets. In that long term, I agree, but in the short term, this will help put pressure on cable TV prices and should stop the knee-jerk annual increases in cable TV bills. It's not the kind of competition I prefer, but at least it is competition.

The danger over the long term is that in many communities, we will see cartel-like behavior. As the playing field between the phone and cable companies becomes more even, both will be happy to keep prices comfortably high. So we have not really solved the basic problem of choice and affordability.

What I hope is that more communities will realize that broadband is tied tightly to economic development, and that it is not healthy to have just one or two companies deciding the economic future of the community. The unintended consequences of this bill may be to help a few more communities understand the need to create a truly level playing field, with more than just two teams playing.

That's my hope.

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