Competition in New York's Telecommunication Market and Preserving Public Access Station in New Media Franchises
Remarks by Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera - Press event,
Wednesday, March 21, 2007, LOB, Room 130

Good morning and thank you all for being here.

I am joined by some of my colleagues and individuals from throughout the state who daily work to preserve our first amendment rights to free speech through their work in and with public access stations operated in cable franchises.

Before I introduce some of the speakers this morning, it is important to note immediately that this press conference is about our strong belief that true competition only happens when every business interest has to compete on an equal footing.

We are also here to declare that as New York moves to accommodate new players to the digital telecommunications market, we must protect local community control in the negotiations of franchise agreements and preserve the vitally useful public access stations that have become institutions in many communities.

Right now, we are concerned that this is not the case in proposals being circulated in the legislature.

We are not here to endorse or oppose any legislation.

Rather we are here to affirm our commitment to consumer protection issues that must be included in any legislation that will ultimately by supported.

The problem is simple. Yet the consequences for neglecting our calls here this morning are profound.

As you know, telephone companies have been trying to gain special privileges at the federal level so they can compete in the lucrative high speed telecommunications market.

They failed to some respect at the federal level and are now pressing states, including New York for special treatment that would allow them to set up shop in communities without the same rules that today govern the operation of cable television companies.

Slowly the power of localities to negotiate franchise agreements has been chipped away and the threat to public access stations is mounting.

The special rules telephone companies want threaten community control of franchise agreements, they threaten to extinguish community access to the airwaves - now really cable and fiber waves.

But more importantly those special rules will not bring about any competition in services that will provide benefits for the consumer.

Let me give you a brief and clear example.

Right here in the capital of New York State, the local cable provider has been unwilling for more than two years to negotiate a new franchise agreement with the city of Albany.

There is no competition in the city of Albany because Verizon and AT&T want to provide their services only to high income communities - so they are in the suburbs heavily promoting their products.

So those few communities will see some price benefits of competition but not the city of Albany.

This is troubling. It is clearly new age redlining of low income and minority communities that will deny them the same consumer protections and benefits.

If today, Verizon was trying to establish a franchise in the city of Albany, do we think that Time Warner still would not want to negotiate with the city of Albany?

Obviously not! There would be a franchise agreement, several of them. The city of Albany would be a winner, consumers, all consumers would benefit.

But that is not the case and it is a clear example of the dangers of the special treatment that if allowed, will hurt New Yorkers.

There are examples of good will on these issues by telephone companies.

But not in New York. And as government officials we can not allow a piecemeal approach to good community - business relationship.

We must continue to demand through law and regulations that any firm entering the digital telecommunication services market live by rules that have been in place and fought for to protect consumers.

A few days ago AT&T freely negotiated a franchise agreement with the city of Milwaukee. That agreement shows the potential of what can be achieved;

It pays the city a franchise fee (5%) and it pays additional fees for operating pegs (2%).

But we must demand that through laws and regulations that this is normal behavior not arbitrary corporate decisions that will not protect all consumers.

New York State Assembly
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