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Free Press: Ohio Lawmakers Urged to Oppose AT&T-Backed Bill

MAY 22, 2007
11:18 AM

CONTACT: Free Press 
Jen Howard, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x 22

Ohio Lawmakers Urged to Oppose AT&T-Backed Bill
SB 117 Puts Future of Broadband and Public Access Channels at Risk

COLUMBUS, OHIO - MAY 22 - Consumer groups and local public access stations are urging Ohio state legislators to oppose Senate Bill 117 legislation that would eliminate longstanding consumer protections and local oversight of cable TV providers. The bill, which already passed the state Senate, will be considered by a key House committee tomorrow, May 23.

"AT&T lobbyists are pushing hard for this bill because it was written to benefit them at the expense of the rest of us," said Catherine Turcer, legislative director of Ohio Citizen Action. "SB 117 would allow giant phone companies to make more money by gutting consumer protections and dodging local community access requirements."

Currently, local governments negotiate "cable franchises" to establish customer-service standards; provide funding for public, educational and government (PEG) access channels; and ensure that consumers can call local officials to resolve problems with their cable company. Having failed in efforts to pass national video franchising legislation, AT&T has been aggressively lobbying for SB 117 to bypass this system of local accountability.

"Ohio needs policies that build high-speed broadband and video networks in all communities," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, the national, nonpartisan media reform organization. "Phone companies have admitted they plan to target their services to only the wealthiest communities, and there is nothing in this legislation that would stop them."

"This bill not only fails to ensure that consumers will benefit from new video competition, it may expose them to the risk of higher cable rates, reduced quality and reduced access to competitive choices offered via the Internet," added Joel Kelsey, grassroots coordinator at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

Public access stations and the local communities that depend on them would be hit especially hard by Ohio's proposed video franchising legislation. Among its many damaging provisions, the bill sets high "use-it-or-lose-it" programming standards for public access TV.

"SB 117, in its present form, is the beginning of the end for PEG access," said Tom Bishop, vice chair of the Ohio/Kentucky Chapter of the Alliance for Community Media. "Channels are marginalized off the basic tier, funding is cut, and the question of whether you will be able to even seen what PEG is left is open to question because these so-called video service providers aren't required to provide service in all neighborhoods."

"This legislation needs major rewrite before it is advanced for vote by the General Assembly," concluded local community leader Alvin R. Hadley, executive director of the Columbus Metropolitan Area Church Council.

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