WisBusiness: Legislator looks to revise state’s cable franchising rules

By Andy Szal


Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, has introduced a bill to revise the 2007 Cable Competition Bill.

Hebl’s Cable Consumer Repair Bill would, in part, allow municipalities the option to fix local problems, move the state’s regulatory authority from the Department of Financial Institutions to the Public Service Commission, and change the length of the state cable franchise from 10 to five years. Backers say the original bill — which transferred authority over cable franchising from local officials to the state — hasn’t resulted in lower rates or more jobs.

“I want the public and my fellow legislators to listen firsthand to how cable deregulation has failed to live up to the promises that were made,” Hebl said.

UW-Madison telecommunications professor Barry Orton claimed DFI was chosen to oversee the cable industry in the 2007 bill because of its “ability to regulate the least” and said the PSC has the experience, procedures and staff necessary to appropriately regulate cable providers.

But Thad Nation of Wired Wisconsin said the original bill has been successful at opening up the cable marketplace and expanding consumers’ access to new video providers, services and features. Nation said Hebl’s bill “threatens to turn back the clock and return to higher costs, less competition and a disjointed marketplace.”

Orton countered that cable rates under the new bill are doing the same thing as before: rising.

“Cable rates never go down,” Orton said. “They go up, and they go up consistently.”