An Alito for the Wall Street Journal


I am seriously bent out of shape by an editorial entitled “Franchise Freedom” that I read in the January 2, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

I can’t link to the editorial here, because even the Journal’s red-meat-Republican opinions are locked behind a subscription site. (How very web-centric…how very authentic it makes me think they are when they report on the Internet. See?…I’m so upset I am “side-ranting.”)

What’s got me so fired up are the unfounded, baseless accusations printed in the editorial to add emphasis to the Journal’s support of the smoke-filled-room FCC action to “deregulate” the cable TV franchising process.

Fortunately, nobody believes this FCC gift to the regional Bells will stand.

So, enter the WSJ…defender of mega-telcos against people like me. I am apparently “beholden” to the cable industry. (I may be infamous elsewhere, but I absolutely guarantee you nobody in Charter Communications in Worcester knows who I am.)

I and my hard-working colleagues on the Southborough Cable TV Committee have been, apparently, “shaking down” Verzion for things like service to our whole town, requests to interconnect their system with the existing system for public programming and a fair level of support for continuing that programming.

I’m incensed. (Duh!) I wrote the Journal a letter, which met with complete silence. I’ve copied it here, mostly for catharsis.

Last year, you may remember that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia got upset for being caught giving a gesture in public that conveys precisely how I feel about the Journal’s editorial. Since Justice Scalia is a favorite of the Journal’s opinion editors, I though I’d send them an “alito” of my own. Maybe they understand that better.

Here’s the letter I sent the Journal:

Dear Sir and/or Madame:

Usually, your more strident opinions roll off my back easily.

But reading Franchise Freedom (WSJ, January 2. 2007) felt more like being stabbed in the back. As a member of a “so-called” local franchising authority, I vehemently reject the accusation that anyone is “shaking down” the competitive cable applicant in my Town. Further, nobody I know working in the largely volunteer cable franchising authorities in Massachusetts cities and towns is doing anything “at the behest of the cable industry.” It’s wrong of you to assert that is the case and an insult to many of the good people working on these issues at the local level. Painting us with the brush of corruption is facile — and dead wrong.

On the contrary, the Bells have used their resources and power at the Federal and state regulatory and legislative levels to seek expedited entry to the cable business while simultaneously dragging their heels and bemoaning their fate at the lands of local officials. They simply placed multiple bets — and the FCC rolled their number. Meanwhile, they just sat pat. The irony is that with local authorities — like my Town — who have consistently expressed a desire for rapid negotiations and which want vigorous cable competition, the imperious Bells have slow-rolled us while seeking a better regulatory deal.

What the FCC’s decision has done is to introduce chaos to the franchising process, ultimately delaying cable competition by ensuring legal challenges and injecting uncertainty into the process. Disrupting 40 years of well-established process does not accelerate government. It paralyzes it, and for far longer than more comprehensively thought-out deregulation would have. This was bad public policy — and a not-so-subtle parting gift from the Republicans to the Bells.

You have reflexively sided with the Bells, impugning not just the entire cable industry (an easy target, I must admit) but also scores of well-intentioned and civic-minded people who have until now effectively managed local cable franchising. The system does need improvement — and both Democrat FCC Commissioners said as much during hearings — but that change cannot come by transferring public assets to the Bells.

Thank you.

Alex Neihaus







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