Cable Deregulation Speeding Into Law in Last-Minute Secrecy;

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Last Hope for Effective State Oversight May Be Dumped, Group Warns

Santa Monica, CA — Watch for continued weakening of customer rights and state and local oversight as a telecom deregulation bill initiated by lobbyists for AT&T and Verizon is completed in a closed-door rush, warn consumer advocates at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). Last-minute amendments that could be accepted as early as Monday in the state Senate Appropriations Committee have not been made public

There are tips that responsibility for statewide video franchises will be taken away from the Public Utilities Commission (which has long regulatory experience) and shoved back to a powerless nonregulatory body like the Secretary of State’s office. “That would be just what AT&T and Verizon need to complete their demolishing of meaningful government oversight,” said FTCR research director Judy Dugan. “No one outside the inner circle of lobbyists and legislators knows for sure, because the latest round of amendments hasn’t been made public.”

The measure, AB2987, will allow cable companies to dump their franchise deals with cities and, along with phone companies seeking to enter the video market, obtain a license to operate statewide.

“Along with the statewide franchises, the companies get to shed stricter customer service standards that big cities imposed,” said Dugan. “The cities will lose the clout that their franchise deals offered, which brought more local programming and digital benefits to public agencies and schools. Fines for violating the weaker state customer service standards are at joke level, $500 a day with a three-day maximum.”

Requirements that video providers offer the same level of service to rich and poor neighborhoods alike are weak and may be getting weaker, said FTCR. Cable companies currently have strict requirements for such “build-out” to all communities in their service territory.

AT&T alone has contributed just shy of $150,000 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his causes. It is likely to be his office that is behind attempts to remove PUC oversight, said FTCR. Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, is a former chair of the PUC who has long opposed strengthening its oversight powers. She was the chief force behind gutting a 2004 cell-phone users’ bill of rights.

AT&T also sponsored a $1.7 million Democratic Party fund-raiser this year on behalf of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a cosponsor of AB 2987. AT&T is prominent in the campaign fund-raising frenzy — 75 events in 19 days — now sweeping the Capitol. See for details.

Nunez and co-sponsor Lloyd Levine speed-tracked AB 2987 to 77-0 passage by the Assembly in June with almost no consideration. Its passage through the Senate slowed slightly while cable companies demanded and got the right to abrogate their own local franchises. See more on the history of this bill at:

“The cloud of industry influence over our elected officials in this debate is just as thick as it was when politicians crafted the doomed electricity deregulation law in 1996,” said Dugan. FTCR supports Proposition 89, the Clean Elections Initiative on the November ballot, which would squelch the power of special interests like the telecom lobby.

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Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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