A lot of issues with our cable system are coming to a head all at once.
Thanks to Jeff Gelles's column in today's Inquirer, the traffic at www.freetheflyers.com has been picking up. He was glad to see a local group picking up the Comcast Loophole issue. I sent out a press release on the campaign, which I've posted below.
The Philadelphia City Council Public Property and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing today at 1pm on Bill No.: 060440, sponsored by Councilmember Michael Nutter. The bill would transfer the Area II franchise, currently controlled by Time Warner and formerly controlled by Urban Cable, to Comcast. The result would be a complete Comcast monopoly of the cable system. Here's the bill summary:
Consenting to the assignment of Area II cable television franchise from Time Warner Cable Inc. to Time Warner NY Cable LLC, to further assignment of such franchise from Time Warner NY Cable LLC to Cable Holdco Exchange VI LLC, and to change of control of such franchise from Time Warner Inc. to Comcast Corporation, all under certain terms and conditions.
I plan to be there to testify. I'll post my testimony this evening, but I will be emphasizing the Comcast Loophole issue and reading some of the comments people have submitted. Other people there will be emphasizing the need to activate our local public access channels.
Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, where you'll recall the Policy Committee held a hearing on state franchising, Republican Senators Dominic Pileggi and Senator Anthony Williams are planning to introduce a state franchising bill tomorrow morning. Their press release says the 'Cable Choice and Competition Act' is "intended to reduce cable bills and give Pennsylvania consumers greater choice in whoprovides their cable service."
Readers of this blog are aware of the dangers posed by state and federal franchising to public access and the open internet. Basically, this is another example Verizon writing our state communication laws, as it did with Act 183. This isn't going to go down without a fight.
Here's today's press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 5, 2006
Philadelphia Grassroots Cable Coalition
Local groups tell City Council: "Free the Flyers! Close the Comcast Loophole!"
A coalition of consumer advocates, labor activists, media watchdogs, seniors, and low-income families today called on City Council to demand Comcast share its Philadelphia sports programming with its competitors as a condition of its transfer of the area two franchise currently controlled by Time Warner.
The transfer, which City Council is considering today at a 1:00 pm hearing, would result in monopoly control of pay TV service in Philadelphia. The sharing of sports programming would make satellite TV providers a more viable competitor in the local market. Satellite TV currently has about half the subscription rate in Philadelphia that it does in other cities.
The coalition is also petitioning the Federal Communications Commission for relief as the agency reviews the proposed Comcast-Time Warner takeover of the bankrupt Adelphia Communications. The website www.freetheflyers.com asks people to "Free the Flyers! Close the Comcast Loophole!" by sending comments directly to the FCC.
The Comcast Loophole is a provision in the federal cable law that allows cable companies to withhold from competitors any programming they distribute through wires. They have to share anything they distribute through satellite. Comcast uses its monopoly over Philadelphia sports programming as an anti-competitive weapon against satellite TV providers, allowing them to continue raising their rates year after year without regard to the rate of inflation or the quality of service.
"We pay for the stadium. We pay for the headquarters. We don't get the channels. That's a bad deal for Philadelphia. City Council has an opportunity to right that wrong." said Joshua Breitbart, who is coordinating the coalition.
The coalition is also seeking the activation of the local public access channels, which belong to the people of Philadelphia but have been used by Comcast rent-free for over 20 years, as well as discounted rates for seniors and fair contracts for Comcast workers.
The members of the coalition, named the Philadelphia Grassroots Cable Coalition, include PennPIRG, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Communication Workers of America, Jobs with Justice, the Philadelphia Community Access Coalition, Media Tank, Action Alliance for Senior Citizens, and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.