Yesterday Senators Burns and Inouye released a set of principles on video franchising reform. These reform principles need reforming.
The big problem is that the Senators' statement does not acknowledge--and therefore does not take into account--how dramatically the video marketplace has changed since passage of the Telecom Act of 1996. Consumers now get their video through cable, satellite, over-the-air TV, the Internet, and cellphones. Even their I-Pods, and gizmos of which I'm probably not even aware (being over 50!). Absent an acknowledgement of the amazing competitive changes that are occuring almost daily in the video marketplace, the princples rely far too heavily on local franchising authorities to dictate video content.
The principles announced by Senators Burns and Inouye say, for example, that local communities are "uniquely positioned to ensure that video providers meet each community's needs and interests in a fair and equitable manner." This sounds an awful lot like the programming acertainment obligations that were developed for local broadcasters in the 1950s and 60s under the public interest doctrine. That was before cable, etc. etc. etc. etc. The principles also say that local communities should retain the authority to dictate "sufficient outlets for local expression." While the role of "localism" in broadcasting long has been a point of contention, mandates like this are not necessary or desirable in today's rich digital video environment.
A set of principles for moving forward on video franchising reform needs to put much more emphasis on the positive role competition, not government mandates, can play in delivering to consumers the services they want at the prices they demand.