Cable companies in Wisconsin have it pretty easy. Under the current system of cable contract negotiations, a municipality reaches a franchise agreement with just one video service provider, effectively giving that company a monopoly on cable service in the area.
And because cable companies in Wisconsin are not forced to compete with other providers for our business, we as consumers are the ones who have to bear the burden.
Cable prices over the past few years have skyrocketed. In Milwaukee and Madison, prices have risen over 60 percent since 1999, while in some parts of the state, prices have risen even faster – over 200 percent during the same eight-year period.
But it’s not just the rising prices that consumers have to worry about. The level of customer service the cable companies provide has declined, and cable technology has remained stagnant over the past few years.
It’s no surprise that in a recent statewide poll, only 31 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the cable TV companies.
If a cable company was a politician, you can bet the impeachment proceedings would have begun by now. But unfortunately, because only one cable company provides service to each municipality, consumers are left with no recourse.
The Video Competition Act, which was introduced by Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Green Bay) and Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) last March, promises to change all that.
This bill would open up the door to cable competition in the state by centralizing the current cable franchise agreement process and allowing multiple video service providers to operate inside a given community.
Video service providers of all sizes would be able to enter the market and compete for our business, and consumers would have a real choice as to who they receive their service from. When cable companies are finally forced to compete for our business, they’ll be forced to improve the quality of the services they provide – while lowering the cost to us.
In fact, cable prices have decreased 23 percent in the 11 states that have passed legislation similar to the Video Competition Act.
It’s been nearly eight months since this bill was first introduced, and it’s way past time for it to become law. The State Assembly has already passed the bill.
All that’s left is for the State Senate to do this same. On Wednesday, the Joint Finance Committee overwhelmingly passed the bill on a bipartisan vote, 13-3, clearing the way for a vote in the Senate on Nov. 8.
According to a recent study, Wisconsin consumers pay over $400,000 more for cable service every day than they would if the Video Competition Act was enacted. That’s a total of more than $90 million in excess payments since the bill was introduced.
Hopefully, that ever-increasing total will come to a halt in the near future. When the Video Competition Act comes up for a vote, state legislators should do the right thing and give Wisconsin consumers a real choice for their cable service.
Thad Nation is the executive director of TV4US Wisconsin. Additional information is available at www.wewantchoicewi.com.