I meant to write a response to this post from the AJC Political Insider yesterday, but didn't get the time. The gist is:
- The "new" AT&T wants the go-ahead to pipe video over its phone lines to compete with cable and satellite companies. Legislation proposed by state Rep. Jeff Lewis would allow for that.
- AT&T wants to secure a franchise agreement with the state to bypass negotiating with each and every city and county as cable providers do now. Public access channels are created through these negotiations, so the likely outcome of this arrangement would be no public access channels on AT&T's network. And AT&T could save as much as $500 million by avoiding those negotiations and not having to create those channels.
- Federal regulations allow a $1 subscriber fee to be attached to such arrangements that would be donated to arts funding (it works this way in Texas). If the legislation were passed with such a stipulation, it's estimated that $12 million per year would go to arts programs. In this case, it would act as sort of a penalty fee to make up for not having to provide public access channels.
- AT&T is against that stipulation.
- AT&T is giving a total of $2.3 million in various amounts to Piedmont Park, the Atlanta History Center, and another organization (the entry doesn't identify the third party unless I'm just missing it). They hope this gift will demonstrate that such regulation isn't necessary.
The question at the core of this to me is what is the role of a public access channel now? Is it an outdated concept since anybody can put a video on Youtube or dozens of other Internet services for free? Or is it still a vital community function by allowing free access to anyone who wants it, particularly to people who can't afford their own equipment, and of keeping people in touch with their communities generally?
I can't say I've watched anything on public access since college, and then it was a show run by two guys who provided commentary on local semi-pro wrestling. I didn't even really keep up with what they were saying, I just thought they were funny. As you can probably guess, I was drunk 100 percent of the time I was watching them.
But that's totally anecdotal. I don't want to project and say that because it isn't particularly valuable to me that it isn't valuable to someone. If anyone can give better examples, I'd love to hear them.
The elitist in me would ask, from a community connectivity standpoint, what's the difference in a government requiring a public access channel or in just posting videos to a free web site? In both cases, there are economic entry barriers to consume that media. A TV costs $100 or more, and monthly service costs $40 or more. A computer with enough power to watch Internet videos can be bought for as little as $200, and monthly broadband Internet service costs about the same as a cable connection. That leaves the question of access to production equipment as the most compelling argument for it to me.
The other point I could name against the legislation is if Comcast and others have to negotiate for those rights locally, isn't that unfair to them? Why should AT&T get that $500 million gift and not Comcast?
The upside is that more competition in the cable/satellite TV market sounds really good to me. Comcast has been awful for me in both Tennessee and Georgia (anecdotal again, but I'm not the only one I've heard complaining), and I firmly believe it's because they're fat and lazy without any real competition to speak of.
Anyway, please help me flesh this out. I waffle all the time on media regulation issues (even net neutrality) because I can see both sides of the argument. Shorter version of pros and cons to me:
- More competition in cable/satellite television market = better service, cheaper prices
- Can possibly be done with some new guaranteed arts funding
- What about public access television?
- How can giving AT&T special treatment versus other providers be rationalized?