by Andrew Crisp
The House Business Committee of the Idaho Legislature is considering a bill that would change the relationship between cable providers, television affiliates and local communities. Among other things, House Bill 539 would set up a state-level franchise process for cable providers. According to the public-access organization Treasure Valley Community Television, it would remove their capital funding, forcing their channels to go dark.
“It has passed in 20 states, they have enacted statewide franchising. We’ve seen that municipalities have lost money, that franchises have closed. This promise that it would bring competition and bring prices down, instead rates have increased,” said Alex McNish, TVCTV executive director. “I really don’t see any benefit other than to the corporation, and their bottom line.”
McNish also said that this bill’s provision to remove a special Public-Educational-Governmental fee, or PEG fee, would save cable subscribers only a dime per month, or $1.20 per year. Currently, Cable One customers pay an additional 10 cents as a line item on their monthly bill.
“It’s not the free-market approach to television. Our view is, why can’t they go out and get sponsorships?” asked Erik Makrush of Idaho Freedom Foundation before the committee began a hearing on Feb. 21.
McNish testified to the committee in opposition to the bill, stating that the PEG fees make up almost 100 percent of TVCTV's budget, which allows them to provide publicly funded television programming.
“If you have to pass this statewide authority bill, we’re asking that you include the PEG fees,” said McNish.
However, some members of the committee weren’t very sympathetic.
"I don’t know how things work in your community, but in our community when funding is cut, we hold fundraisers," said Wilder Republican Rep. Gayle Batt.
The committee also suggested that the City of Boise make up for the lost PEG funding. Currently, TVCTV broadcasts the Boise City Council meetings live, a service McNish said they "couldn't afford" without the PEG funding.
The committee chose to schedule a vote on the bill for Thursday, Feb. 23, after testimony pushed the Feb. 21 hearing well past 5 p.m.