Much of the debate so far over cable tv franchising has been in generalities. For instance, the set of principles outlined by Sens. Burns and Inouye refers elegantly to “deliberately structured dualism”, recognizing that each local cable regulatory is “uniquely positioned to ensure that video providers meet each community’s needs and interests in a fair and equitable manner.”
That’s all very nice. But what is it that local officials are really asking for? In a recent filing with the FCC, AT&T provided some specific examples of what some creative local officials are requesting as part of their efforts to ensure that video providers meet their community’s needs and interests in a fair and equitable manner:
– One city asked the potential cable competitor to pay for a new recreation center and pool.
– Another city compiled a $13 million dollar wish list, including digital editing equipment, and video cameras to film a math tutoring program.
– A New York town asked for seed money (literally) for wildflowers, and a video hookup for its Christmas celebrations.
– A Massachusetts cable authority asked for free television for every house of worship and a 10% video discount for all senior citizens.
– Another asked for high-speed Internet for sewage facilities and junk yards.
– A no doubt aesthetically minded regulator asked for “flower baskets for light poles.”
– Perhaps the best negotiator was the regulator who simply asked for everything that was given to other cities.
Of course, not all localities have made such demands (although some of those may now be kicking themselves for not thinking of it.) And much of the debate over video franchising has centered on more substantive issues such as build-out requirements. But “wishlist” requests are not uncommon. Certainly, they are tempting for local officials who have pet projects they want funded without the normal financing and oversight constraints. But it is no free lunch–the cost is paid for in the form of foregone competition and higher cable TV costs. “Deliberately structured dualism” or not, that’s no good thing.