Is TV4US Good for Wisconsin?
“You have no doubt seen the “TV4US”
commercials on your local television station arguing for state
legislation to promote cable competition and bring lower prices
and better service. On the surface, who could argue with legislation
that would make the cable industry more accountable to consumers?
I know that during my time at Trade & Consumer Protection,
we spent more time investigating Charter Communications for consumer
protection violations than almost any other company.
Senator Jeff Plale (D–South Milwaukee)
and Representative Phil Montgomery (R–Ashwaubenon) have
introduced bills—Senate Bill 107 and Assembly Bill 207—that
would allow Wisconsin to join the 11 states that have adopted
what’s known as the Video Competition Act. The measures
would facilitate competition by allowing other companies to provide
new video technology services to consumers, regardless of the
exclusive local cable franchise agreements certain companies such
as Charter might have with local governments. Overall, I believe
the bill’s proposed state law changes could enhance competition,
which would then lead to lower prices and better consumer service.
However, at the April 5 state telephone cooperative
meeting, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer
Protection Secretary Rod Nilsestuen criticized parts of the legislation
that he said would remove existing protections in Wisconsin law
known as “cable television subscriber rights.” Nilsestuen’s
comments were echoed by Trade & Consumer Protection Administrator
Janet Jenkins’ testimony at a March 27, 2007, hearing on
the bill. Both Nilsestuen and Jenkins argue that the bill would
eliminate a consumer’s right to: (1) have service repaired
within 72 hours of notification if service was lost to something
other than a natural disaster, (2) obtain a billing credit if
there is an interruption in service more than four hours long,
and (3) receive at least 30 days’ prior notice of a rate
increase or deletion of current programming.
A final comment on what should otherwise be
a good bill: The TV4US campaign is available online at www.wewantchoicewi.com.
The web site states, “TV4US is a non-profit, grassroots
coalition advocating on behalf of customers.” Common Cause,
a national consumer advocacy group, notes, “TV4US is the
very definition of Astroturf: an industry-backed campaign that
gives the appearance of widespread grassroots support.”
Common Cause cites AT&T as the organization’s primary
Consumers usually benefit from competition but
not when important consumer protections are eliminated. Fortunately,
legislators appear to be hearing this message and have said they
will put the eliminated consumer protections back into the bill.
You can help make sure this happens by contacting your legislator
on the toll-free Legislative Hotline at 1-800-362-9472. You can
find your legislator by going to http://waml.legis.state.wi.us/
and find a copy of the bill at the same site.