September 12, 2014

Committee for Media Access Requests Meeting with Illinois Attorney General

CMA has sent a letter to the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan requesting a meeting to discuss concerns about Comcast's decision to abandon its negotiations with the City of Chicago and instead to apply for a state franchise, which took place at the end of August.
Local franchises exist to protect consumers, prevent redlining, and ensure cable companies meet public obligations like funding for public access channels. Illinois’ statewide franchise law was passed in 2007 following a push by AT&T to get into the video market.  AT&T and its supporters then claimed that state franchise law would bring in new competitors to existing cable companies.  Instead the law has become the fallback for companies like Comcast that are unwilling to reach agreement with local government.

State franchising has also proven to be ineffective in protecting the public. A glaring example is the law’s requirement that public access channels get equal treatment to commercial channels on any state holder’s system.  AT&T is defying the law by saddling the public’s channels with inferior technology and making those channels hard to find and use.  The AG has not acted to stop this blatant form of discrimination. 

Comcast is apparently only applying for a state franchise for the City of Chicago, keeping its local franchises elsewhere in the state.  As Chicago’s largest cable provider, its decision to pursue a state franchise means a loss of City authority over Comcast.  Local residents will lose access to a local accountability system the City set up to deal with unresolved cable problems and complaints.  And with state law expiring next year, there is the potential for companies like AT&T and Comcast to further downgrade public protections in the law.  

It is critical that the Attorney General Madigan work actively to increase and protect the public benefits that exist in Illinois’ cable franchise law, and to enforce the law on behalf of the public.  Otherwise, what started as a promise for increased competition seven years ago, will look like another example of failed public policy. 

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