by Matt Stoller, Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 09:21:51 AM EST
It's still difficult to pass net neutrality protections, and it looks like it might be getting harder because state level officials aren't able to withstand pressure from corporate lobbies. The telecoms have a powerful and effective strategy - use their allies in the CBC and New Dems to stop net neutrality protections on the Federal level, while passing video franchising rights in the states so they don't need Federal permission to expand their business. We stopped them in Pennsylvania, but they have the upper hand in a fight in Michigan where a bill is being debated.
The cable bill received lopsided 80-21 approval in the House on Nov. 14. Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, said he wants the chamber to begin debating it Dec. 7. Legislative approval would send the bill to Gov. Jennifer Granholm's desk.
Granholm's re-election campaign received a lift from Google's July announcement to expand in Ann Arbor. At the same time, the cable bill is backed by Democratic constituencies like the Communications Workers of America, which represents thousands of AT&T workers in Michigan. CWA Vice President Larry Handley said Tuesday that Google and other opponents were trying to "hijack a pro-consumer, pro-labor bill."
Liz Boyd, Granholm's spokeswoman, declined to enter the fray Tuesday saying only that the governor wouldn't support a bill that "in any way is going to disadvantage consumers."
Local officials Tuesday continued to press their concerns that the legislation rips up franchise agreements between local governments and cable operators. The House-passed bill instead establishes a franchise system administered at the state level by the Michigan Public Service Commission.
AT&T is seeking statewide franchising as a faster means of marketing a bundled package of services its cable competitors already offer -- cable TV, high-speed Internet broadband and phone service.
There are other severe problems with the bill, of course, including redlining and loss of local control.
Opponents say statewide franchising would allow telecom providers to pick and choose delivery areas, avoiding low-income urban neighborhoods, for example. Proponents argue that a cable provider would have to serve at least 50 percent of the state's households within five years of receiving a franchise.
Mark Monk, operations manager for the Community Access Center in Kalamazoo, said the bill throws into doubt long-standing local services provided through cable infrastructure. He said local governments would lose franchise revenue as well as access to channels that broadcast high school sports and city council meetings.
I'm told that there may have been a deal cut with AT&T and Comcast to push this bill through. The stakes on this one are huge; if we can't get the telecom and cable companies to negotiate on a Federal level, we can't pass net neutrality provisions and the internet will really be crippled. And since Granholm has promised not to sign any bill that would disadvantage consumers, she shouldn't sign this bill.
Moveon set up a special link for us. Please use this link and call Governor Granholm and ask her to veto the "Michigan Video Franchising Bill" (HB 6456) unless it includes net neutrality protections. If you live in Michigan, please call your state Senator and ask him/her to ensure that any cable bill has net neutrality provisions in it.
This is a slow, steady process. If we can beat them in the states, we can force them to come back to the Federal level and deal with the Congress we just elected. Everyone knows the stakes here, this is just raw pressure from the telcos being put on lawmakers.