Did The Big Cable Bill of 2007 Help Consumers At All?
......It was going to save Floridians as much as $600 million a year; create high-wage jobs and increase state-of-the-art telecommunications.
But state analysts say they can’t confirm that the most-lobbied bill of 2007 has had much of an effect in Florida – other than limiting oversight of the cable and telecommunications industry and the fees the companies pay governments.
Following the full-scale lobbying effort, lawmakers that year agreed to strip cities and counties of authority to negotiate cable TV and video franchise deals.
Since then, the Florida Department of State has issued 26 state franchise certificates, mostly to already active cable and video companies, the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) found in a new report.
Are consumers better off?
“No reliable information exists in the public arena that would allow a comprehensive analysis of changes in competition and rates for services,” analysts concluded. “Cable and telecommunications companies report that they will be unwilling to provide such data unless the Legislature enacts new public records exemptions to protect the confidentiality of this information.”
Industry representatives say federal regulations prohibit sharing much data about subscribers – and also worry about disclosing proprietary business information.
The OPPAGA report recommended that lawmakers change state public records law to force companies to disclose more data before a second review of the franchise law is conducted five years from now.
“There’s really not much we can really share with OPPAGA currently,” Charlie Dudley, a lobbyist for the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, told the News Service of Florida on Thursday.
Two years ago AT&T enrolled 33 lobbyists to push the franchise legislation and the cable association had the same number working the issue.
A year later, once the legislation passed, AT&T cut its lobbyist lineup by two-thirds, state records show, while the cable group retained only one registered lobbyist.
But during the drive to get lawmakers to approve the measure, the sponsors, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, former Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, used industry analysis to tout the cost-savings and job-making prospects of the legislation.
The legislation was dubbed the Consumer Choice Act of 2007 and made Florida among 20 states that abandoned local franchising in favor of a statewide system.
Industry officials derided the old franchising method as cumbersome and costly – with one representative pointing out that in one Florida county, more than two-dozen local franchises were in place.
The overhaul put Department of State officials in charge of issuing franchises. Twenty-six agreements have been reached over the past two years, with all but a dozen given to existing cable and video service providers.
OPPAGA also determined that providers pay less in franchise fees than they did under local agreements.
A key breakthrough in gaining support for the franchise bill occurred when the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators and NAACP joined the fight for the measure, amid promises that more services would be offered to communities at a lower cost.
OPPAGA, however, found that state franchise applications “do not require companies to clearly indicate whether all consumers in a company’s service area will be able to access services.”
study also found that the number of basic cable subscribers in Florida has grown by a relatively modest 2 percent, or 86,000 housholds over the past two years.
While city and county governments formerly had more direct oversight of cable companies under the old system, analysts say that several state agencies now share responsibilities related to the industry, including the Public Service Commission, Attorney General’s Office and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
None, however, have singular authority over the industry.
Meanwhile, local government officials say their chief concerns with the legislation in 2007 was the threat of losing government access channels and that promised rate reductions wouldn’t occur. Local officials also told OPPAGA they continue to receive consumer complaints – although they have no control over the new system.
“I think the jury is still out on whether the move was good or bad,” said John Thomas, lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities.