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Local govts continue attempt to skim from ratepayers

Some local governments in Louisiana, conscious more than ever of revenue being squeezed, continue to resist reform legislation in cable television provision that recently has gone into effect. From the bellows emanating from the Louisiana Municipal Association and Police Jury Association of Louisiana, one would think fundamental rights of the citizenry are being violated with this law coming into force. But in the end, all it’s about is local governments decrying being unable to skim more money out of the citizenry.

These groups have gone to court – and so far lost – to try to stop implementation on the new law, Act 433 of 2008. It allows for granting of statewide franchises for operators which gives far less discretion for local governments to attach on special conditions that can be used as backdoor methods to raise government revenue from ratepayers. Eager to deflect from this reality opponents of the law – who do not include the cable industry itself that once opposed but now supports the new standards – raise chimerical arguments that expose that the conflict really is about clipping local government power and not about citizens who subscribe to cable TV.

One concern presumed discrimination against rural areas because on a per capita basis it is more expensive to provide such service. This was addressed previously by the onerous “build-out” requirements most local governments forced upon providers which not only passed costs on to urban ratepayers (as rates were invariant of population density) but also provided more potential sources of pass-through revenues for local governments. The new law gives market forces much greater priority and reduces any such complaints of reduced rural service to a big “so what:” it’s not like cable TV is essential to anybody’s life, you don’t have the right to have it and, if you really want more than broadcast choices, there’s always satellite.

Another mountain-out-of-a-molehill complaint comes from local government who say they can’t get freebies that they used, such as compelled coverage of their governmental bodies or free service to government buildings. The former complaint is misleading: the law compels offering service for at least one channel of “public, educational, and governmental” access automatically for any local government upon request, and at least one additional channel if local governments use it enough. Whereas governments used to force companies not only to broadcast but to pay for production of certain things, the only difference now is that providers will have to only subsidize it partially. And why should government enrich itself with free service when if the company did not have to provide it, savings could be passed on to the ratepayers?

Finally, there is the claim heretofore rejected by the courts of the unconstitutionality of the law because it allows the state to interfere in local contracts. But the law sets up a clear procedure to enter into and exit contracts, and what are permissible contracts. And because of grandfather provisions the majority of the state’s population isn’t even affected by the new law.

Again, recognize this desperate attempt to undo the democratic will of the state for what it is – protecting government at the expense of the people. As the year passes and the greater competition that the bill triggers manifests, leading to more channels, more choices among them, and relatively lower costs, this truism will become all the more apparent.

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