The cable that bind s - Page 3

Comcast bullies cities like Oakland with lawsuits, but pending state legislation and San Francisco's municipal broadband initiative could change how television gets delivered

"Having competition is a good thing for cities, consumers, and communities, but having competition that is unfair to communities and dismantles protections is not. We need to fix what's in the Senate version," he argued.

Levy believes that Comcast is playing a wait-and-see game as the N??ñez bill makes its way through Sacramento and that Oakland should continue to negotiate with Comcast for the best franchise deal possible.

"Because it may be the last franchise deal Oakland gets," he explained, warning that if AB 2987 passes unmodified in the Senate, "we're going to go from an irresponsible monopoly system to one that's a system of unfair competition."

But N??ñez deputy chief of staff Steve Maviglio told the Guardian that without the N??ñez bill, "cities have as much choice as they did in the former Soviet Union.... This bill is a powerful incentive for other providers." Maviglio said that the bill language could still be modified in the Senate, but that its basic goal is clear.

"We hope this bill will save consumers money, lead to more competition, and prevent redlining," he said. "We want to make sure under<\h>served communities don't get left out of the digital picture."

Comcast is the 800-pound gorilla lurking behind the vote in Sacramento, the force that all cities are looking to find some leverage against.

San Francisco supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told us that the Board of Supervisors had tailored legislation that mimicked Oakland's union-<\h>organizing ordinance but abandoned it on the advice of CWA and the SF Labor Council because of what was happening to Oakland at the hands of Comcast.

To Mirkarimi's mind, the best solution is neither piecemeal ordinances nor statewide laws, but for cities to municipalize their telecom and Internet systems.

"We would not be facing these kind of legal challenges if San Francisco was able to municipalize," he told us.

And that's precisely what San Francisco is now pursuing. A proposal by Sup. Tom Ammiano to study the creation of a citywide municipal broadband system to be installed as streets are opened up for sewer lines or other infrastructure needs was recently put out to bid.

Ammiano told the Guardian he expects to get some preliminary indications as to whether the system would be viable as soon as this summer, and he's confident San Francisco will ultimately be in the position to offer television and other broadband services to city residents.

Mirkarimi, who supports the proposal, said it's the best hope to "redeem our utility democracy as it pertains to our cable industry." SFBG