The feud between two media companies earlier this year that kept some Iowa basketball games off Mediacom cable systems has gotten reaction from Iowa lawmakers. Last night, the Iowa House, on a 77 to 19 vote, passed a bill that rewrites the state’s cable franchise law in hopes of lowering rates for customers. Currently, cable companies must negotiate individual service deals with local communities.
The bill allows for a statewide cable TV franchise instead. Representative Art Staed, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, worries that if the bill becomes law, cable companies will no longer be forced to extend service to rural areas, or low-income neighborhoods.
"We’re giving up all of these contracts that our cities have worked hard for and we’re opening it wide up with no controls (and) no guarantees on any of the things that would protect our citizens in our cities," he says. The House did vote to retain some of the services Iowa cities have negotiated in their cable contracts, like public access channels.
Representative Janet Peterson, a Democrat from Des Moines, says she’s confident the bill strikes the right balance. "The thing I hear in my district over and over from people is, ‘My cable prices are way out of control and they keep going up,’" she says. "I guess the question is: do you want to vote for customers in your district?"
Representative Phil Wise, a Democrat from Keokuk, says the current city-by-city system of cable franchise agreements has resulted in a bunch of cable monopolies. "The bottom line (is) my constituents are not happy with the status quo," Wise says. "They’re not happy with what they’re getting for their money."
But Representative Doris Kelley, a Democrat from Waterloo, says cities deserve the right to negotiate local cable agreements — agreements that often result in new fiber optic lines for schools and emergency dispatch centers. "I don’t see us supporting something that’s going to provide competition at the detriment of our communities," Kelley says. The bill now goes back to the Iowa Senate for review of some House changes to the legislation.
Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns stations in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, and Mediacom were embroiled in a months-long battle that at one point had Sinclair refusing to let Mediacom rebroadcast its local TV station signals. The dispute was over how much money Mediacom should pay for the right to put the stations’ signals on its cable systems.