Channeling Competition: Changing Tennessee's Cable Law

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - A business group claims you could be paying a lot less for cable, if Tennessee would change the law to allow more competition.

But Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd is here to tell you what's setting off this battle about what constitutes fair competition.

Eleven states have passed such laws, including Virginia and the Carolinas.

Cable competitors are asking for statewide franchises, rather than cut deals county-by-county or city-by-city, but could that cut your town or county, out of the deal?

Whatever he's looking for, Bob Beeler figures his cable offerings are, "pretty good where they are."

A group of business folks, contractors, and cable competitors claims you'll get choice, for less, if only they can get into the game, statewide.

"I think that's a good idea. I don't see how customers can lose if you have open competition there," says Robert Simon, an Oak Ridge Satellite Customer.

"You're gonna be using rights of way that are assets to a community, we should have a return on those," Oak Ridge's City Manager James O'Conners says the current proposals don't require the competition play by the same rules.

Right now, he says, Comcast makes every channel available to every neighborhood.

Giving Oak Ridge a government channel, schools channel and about $400,000 a year for rights-of-way and utility poles.

"That offsets about 8 percent in property tax. Also purchases about 5 police officers," says O'Conner.

Besides, O'Conner says, what's to stop competitors from wiring only the more affluent folks more likely to buy more channels?

"I think the rules ought to be the same for everybody," says Robert.

"The poor, they deserve to watch TV just like the rich people do!" says Kenny Hendrick, Oneida Satellite customer.

Both Tennessee's bills say competing cable providers could be required to pay franchise fees, and provide access channels, as long as government and schools could keep them filled.

But some say cost isn't what's driving them away.

Cable competitors say aggregation is key, offering a service statewide gives you the customer base to offer more choices for less.

The sticky points will be who gets the franchise fees, and how.

This year, Knox County will collect more than two million dollars in combined franchise fees, from Charter, Knology and Comcast.

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