Editor's note: This editorial has been corrected. An earlier version mischaracterized the effect of the cable bill on municipal finances.
EDITORIAL A terrible bill masquerading as a proconsumer law cleared both houses of the state legislature last week and is now on the governor's desk. It could cost cities and counties millions of dollars, potentially wipe out local control over cable TV franchises, and give a big boost to AT&T, which is best known these days for cooperating with the Bush administration on illegal wiretaps.
The bill, AB 2987, was introduced by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D–Los Angeles), but its real sponsor is AT&T. The bill would allow big telecommunications companies to apply to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a statewide franchise to deliver cable and video services to California residents. The idea is to make it easier for these companies to offer telephone, Internet, and cable TV service all in one bundle. AT&T and the bill's other backers say it will increase competition and lower rates. Lenny Goldberg, who runs the California Tax Reform Association and is one of the smartest analysts of economic policy in the state, says the bill will actually lead to increased rates.
But beyond that, there's a huge problem with the measure. It would effectively take away from cities and counties the ability to regulate local cable TV providers. It would give AT&T or Verizon (or whoever might come along in the future) the ability to ignore local government, get a permit from the state, and deliver service to cities and counties — without having to negotiate a local franchise fee or accept local terms and conditions. Comcast, for example, pays San Francisco millions of dollars a year for the right to sell cable service under the city streets — and under the franchise agreement is required to provide public-access and government channels. A cable provider with a state franchise would never have to go beyond what an existing franchise pays.
Sen. Carole Migden (D–San Francisco), one of only four senators to oppose the bill, argued passionately against giving any favors to AT&T, which has a proven record of turning information on its customers over to the federal government. That's another excellent reason to oppose the bill, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should veto it.
Meanwhile, Assemblymember Mark Leno's industrial hemp bill, AB 1147, is on the governor's desk and should be signed into law. So should AB 2573, which Leno had to fight the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for and will help San Francisco expand its solar power production. There's also Leno's public records reform bill — and perhaps most important, his bill that would allow San Francisco to impose its own motor-vehicle fee, bringing the city $70 million a year. SFBG