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Hispanic Groups Jockey in Franchise Flap - Broadcasting & Cable

Hispanic Groups Jockey in Franchise Flap

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There appears to be some confusion over where the Hispanic media community stands on the issue of 
video-franchise reform, though appearances may be deceiving.

According to letters supplied to B&C, in early February, Esteban Torres, chairman of the National 
Latino Media Council and former congressman, wrote Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the 
Senate Commerce Committee, and committee members urging them to "streamline the current system of 
local cable TV franchises and open the cable market to real competition."

The letter singled out Comcast by name, saying that, "without cable competition, cable providers 
such as Comcast are free to ignore the Hispanic Community's desire to expand program options." The
letter was signed by Torres and listed all the members of the coalition.

Turns out all the members of the coalition weren't on board, though a majority had voted to send 
the letter.

The other six, including the National Puerto Rican Coalition and the Cuban American National 
Council, then fired off their own letter to Torres and NLMC President Alex Nogales complaining 
that it appeared that they had also endorsed the position, and they asked that the letter be retracted. 
"In matters before Congress," they said, "correspondence should not and cannot imply that all 
member organizations have endorsed or opposed legislation if they have not."

A number of bills have been introduced to create a state or national video franchise process to 
speed telco and other competition to cable. Telcos, particularly Verizon, have been lobbying hard for the 
bills so that they can more quickly roll out video service in competition to cable, while cable has countered that any franchise relief should apply to everyone, not just new entrants.

Torres sent a letter Feb. 28 to the committee pointing out that those six had, in fact, taken no position on the legislation.
Well, yes and no.
On March 2, Consumers For Cable Choice (C4CC), a group partially funded by Verizon that has been 
lobbying for state and national franchise reform, issued a release trumpeting the Cuban American 
National Council's decision to join the group, saying that CNC President Guarione Diaz and the CNC
"will work with C4CC to encourage Congressional, state and local lawmakers to update 
telecommunications laws this year and hasten cable television competition in all areas of the 
country."

Sounds like a disconnect. Diaz had not returned a call at press time. But Manuel 
Mirabel, president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, said that the groups that did not sign 
on to the letter are in general agreement that the franchise process needs updating.

What they  were not on board with was singling out Comcast, and with not specifying some protections of franchise fees and service to poorer communities that they felt should be in any video franchising legislation.

While the Torres clarification letter said the companies didn't have a position, "most did," says 
Mirabel.

"All of the organizations are on the same page about the need to do something about competition," 
he says. The concerns of the groups that did not sign on, in addition to the letter singling out 
Comcast, says Mirabel, was that the proposed video franchising legislation was not explicit enough
in preventing companies from bypassing service to less-lucrative areas (so-called red lining), or 
in guaranteeing franchise fees and public access and government channels.

Mirabel calls the initial letter to Stevens "mishandled" and says that if the six groups had seen it beforehand and had input, then they might have signed on.

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