Cable monopoly bill in works as lawmakers wrap up session

Published on

Inside Bay Area (California)

SACRAMENTO, CA — A measure to break cable television companies’ monopolies — though no longer viewed as a way to lower consumer costs — is among a handful of major bills that lawmakers are debating as 2005-06 session ends next week.

The bill, nearing final approval, would allow telephone companies to gain widespread entry into the cable market, a matter now controlled at the local level. The heavily amended measure would hasten better choice and technology for consumers, but is not likely to lower bills, according to experts.

“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 Judy Dugan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

The Legislature, scheduled to wrap up sessions this coming Friday, is also weighing:

– Legislation aimed at making California do its part to reduce global warming. Majorhitches have developed in the main bill, which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including how to achieve reductions, the way in which the program is governed and the nature of a “safety valve” to suspend the program in an emergency.

– A bill requiring hands-free cell phone devices while driving by 2008.

– Legislation to relieve prison overcrowding and improve rehabilitation

– Cutting prescription drug costs. The plan would give the drug industry three years to voluntarily negotiate discounts with the state on behalf of people who earn up to triple the federal poverty level — about $60,000 a year for a family of four. People earning somewhat more, but facing debilitating medical bills, also would be eligible.

– Boosting the state’s minimum wage. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to hike it by $1.25, instead of $1, and Democrats gave up their demand that it rise automatically each year with inflation.

Those measures and others have been the subject of fierce lobbying. But, although it’s an election year, Republican Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-dominated Legislature are swiftly reaching agreements, such as those on wages and drugs.

Analysts say the agreements boost Schwarzenegger’s appeal to moderate voters at a time when his Democratic rival, Phil Angelides, is trying to reach the same voters. Democratic legislators, meanwhile, are just getting what they can from Schwarzenegger, while they can.

Angelides adviser Bill Carrick told the Associated Press the governor is flip-flopping to win support and is “willing to prostitute himself on anything.”

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson responded that the governor was influenced only by the improved economy, which allowed the moves on drugs and wages.

One of the major issues before the Legislature, the cable deregulation bill by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, was aimed at competition.

“Choice drives up quality and brings prices down,” Nunez said.

Under the bill, the state would allow phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon to offer cable services and compete with existing cable providers.

But lower cable bills are not expected as telecommunications firms acknowledge they will focus more on offering additional channels and combining cable with phone and Internet services.

Local governments, once opposed to the bill, will now still be able to collect franchise fees and retain control over network installation.

Five states have passed similar laws and Congress is considering a national franchise.

Other issues under debate — or already headed to the governor — include requiring that kids up to age 8 be restrained in a child car seat; extending to a month the time new mothers could anonymously drop off an unwanted baby at designated places; microscopically stamping identification on bullets; expanding card-club and charity gambling; and relaxing controls on cell-phone towers.

No matter the outcome of the session, there will be no reform of political redistricting or term limits — both hot issues that were dropped during this election year.
Contact Steve Geissinger at [email protected]

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.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases