The New TV: Pay More, Get Less

Pay TV subscribers, listen up – you are about to get stuck paying more for yesterday's technology.

Right now, the telephone companies and your elected representatives are rewriting the laws that control your television and the wires that provide it. The House of Representatives and many state legislatures are looking to give corporations like Verizon and AT&T a license, called a franchise, to run new wires to your home and offer video service to compete with the cable companies that have traditionally been given franchises by your local government.

Getting corporations to compete with each other is good, but here's the chain reaction the bill will cause: There are no requirements on where the new television providers can run their wires. Because they want to make money, they'll put the new wires in rich areas – not cities, just the wealthy neighborhoods in cities.

To compete with the new service, the cable companies will slash their rates. But, again, since there are no price controls in the bill, they will only slash prices in the wealthy neighborhoods with the new wires in what are called targeted predatory pricing campaigns. Everywhere else – where poor and working folks live, where there are no other competitors – they can raise prices to cover their losses in the wealthy neighborhoods. In other words, you will pay more and get less.

This process, where poor neighborhoods get yesterday's technlogy at tomorrow's prices, is called "technological redlining" and the COPE bill, now working its way through Congress, would make it the law of the land.

When you look into this bill, you will see that it has bipartisan support. That's because in Washington DC, bipartisan means it has the support of both the phone and the cable companies. Where the phone companies spend, legislators listen.

Some of the most active folks working to stop this bill – and until it's passed, it's a bill, not an act, so everyone should check their terminology here – are from the world of public access cable, like Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

That's because local governments have been able to use the local franchising process to secure community benefits in exchange for letting cable companies use the space under their streets. These community benefits traditionally include public, educational, and governmental (PEG) access channels, funding for equipment and training to fully utilize those channels, and free television and broadband connections to schools and community centers.

While there are some protections for these community benefits in the COPE bill, taking the franchising authority out of the handles of local governments means every town, city, borough, and hamlet will be left with cookie cutter contracts.You can take action to stop the COPE Act by contacting your Representatives and Senators. To save time, you can use the form available at the Save Access page.

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