As a former lobbyist, AT&T Tennessee's new President must understand the power of money in the General Assembly. Now he seems to be using it to resurrect "video franchise reform" (VFR) which would not just promote competition for the cable industry; it would also centralize the marketing process by establishing state-wide franchising, effectively removing the power of municipalities to broker their own deals.
Conservatives seem to love VFR*, perhaps because they are sensitive to being drummed by others for their blind eyes to or rationalizations of the ills of monopolies. But VFR allows them both to support corporate control of markets (by "The New AT&T," or "Botoxed Ma Bell") and to oppose corporate control of markets (by Comcast).
It is quite entertaining to read some of the more cerebral conservatives blame government for monopolies, because they can continue to bash government as indiscriminately as ever and simultaneously claim the mantel of reform. For example, just read the first two paragraphs of this conservative essay and ask yourself what kind of sheltered, ivory-tower does this guy live in to see a business world untainted by vice or excess until the government gets involved? If only markets were so sterile to the designs and flaws of human foibles and follies. And considering the dream land from where he begins, you can predict the fantasy land where he takes you.
Very few of us who actually feel the pangs of having to pay high bills for video services would oppose reform that would allow lower prices and more equity in the delivery of those services. But it is also fair to query why the right of negotiating for services should be taken from municipalities in order to be centralized statewide (calling it "centralization" is fair if the other option is labeled "balkanization").
Conservatives seem to be straying from their principles at this point, both because they claim local autonomy and because the move seems to necessitate regulation of the market at the state level. On the contrary some of us see no contradiction between more competition, local autonomy, and strong regulations.
As AT&T and Comcast continue to flex their muscle with the state government, our elected officials need to keep an eye first on consumer protection, rather than look to the competitive advantage of one giant over another. Let the conservatives choose up sides with the giants. Tennessee should only centralize the video franchising process if it protects us consumers lost in this land of the giants.
*Drew Johnson, President of a conservative Tennessee think tank, begins his homage to VFR with a flawed analogy: comparing franchising on the public airwaves to franchising on the private hamburger market. Because video delivery competition uses the public air waves, it should be much more tightly regulated on behalf of consumers than the restaurant franchising market.