New House Bill = Stripping Local Communities of Their Right To Access Information?

This Thursday at 10 AM, the House Subcommitee on Telecommunications and the Internet will hold a hearing on the newly proposed "Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006", to disuss how the bill would "make it easier for telephone companies like Verizon and AT&T to offer video and broadband Internet service in competition to cable and satellite by helping them bypass often-contentious local franchise negotiations." – Benton Foundation

"Both the old and new versions [of the bill] would allow Bell companies — such as AT&T and Verizon Communications — to offer video services nationwide without needing to obtain local municipal franchises, and without the need to 'build out' their television services to an entire geographic area. The cable TV industry has supported local franchises, under which it has traditionally operated." – National Journal

But at what expense?

By stripping cities and towns of their ability to negotiate their video franchise agreements with Telephone companies, there is no gaurantee that national franchise agreements will protect Public, Educational, and Government Access Television and "Universal Service" to all communities in a geographic region. It's yet to be seen what Verizon's proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications, Energy, and Transportation will mean for access to informaion in cities and town across the state.

If the article from Friday's Long Island Business News, titled "Verizon Accused of Redlining in Long Island", is any indication, things are not looking so good for what's to come in our home state.

Media Activists in New Jersey "said that the proposal 'redlines' certain areas, including 'areas of color,' according to Rev. Chaucer McMillian of Operation Get Ahead, another community group.

'If they want to provide services, why not include all communities in Nassau County?' asked McMillian."

Without the ability for cities and towns in Massachusetts to ensure that "buildout" of Telephone companies' video services happens, through local video franchise agreements, how can we be ensured that not just the wealthiest communities across the state will benefit from the "promises" a new information age?

Will we just have to wait and see? I don't think so.

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