Cable Wars

Either your cable bill is going to do down, or cable customers will get the shaft. So say the two sides of most hotly lobbied bill in Tallahassee this year. Legislation allowing telephone companies to deliver TV services without local control is about to clear the state House.

On every floor, in every corner across the Capitol, a phone company or cable TV lobbyist is bending someone’s ear about House Bill 529. It’s open warfare. The bill would cut local governments out of approving cable TV franchises and it would let phone companies deliver TV services across the state.

The phone companies say competition will drive down rates. The cable guys say the giant phone conglomerates will only serve the rich customers, leaving minority neighborhoods in the dark. Sponsor Rep. Trey Traviesa disagrees.

“Today, with video services rates, cable rates being 15 to 41 percent higher than they would be with competition, who gets that shaft? The people who can least afford those higher rates, the poor people.”

The phone companies have 98 lobbyists on their payroll, cable just 35. Having so many lobbyists can only mean on thing. There is a pile of money at stake, and cable lobbyist Charles Dudley says that’s the point.

“The bill is about people trying to get unfair advantages in the marketplace here and that could be worth billions of dollars to some of these companies.”

A consumers group has joined the cable side and is running ads asking viewers to call Gov. Charlie Crist, who says, “You know, when they hire than many people to advocate a cause, it has to make you wonder.”

But in fairness, Crist says he hasn’t made up his mind yet. The only sure thing is that the cable TV bill can rightly be called the Lobbyists Relief Act because that’s who’s making the money now.