Capitol Views: Move to regulate cable providers fails

    When asked today to give the Public Service Commission the authority to regulate cable and video service providers, the House Commerce Committee changed the channel.

    HB 534 by Rep. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans, would have stripped the secretary of state’s office of its current oversight role and passed it along, with some additional responsibilities, to the PSC. But most of the lawmakers on the committee said they weren’t provided with a good enough reason to make the change. The bill was deferred by a vote of 14-3.

    Brandon Frey, executive counsel to the PSC, said the commission passed a resolution earlier this month to ask for the power to adopt new standards of customer service for cable providers. Supporters say the goal was not to create new fees for the PSC, or to expand the staff, but to rather add a new layer of oversight to providers that are bundling their products with phone services, which are already being regulated by the commission.

    “The commission does field a high number of complaints for an area that they do not have jurisdiction over,” Frey said. “Some commissioners say they field more complaints about this than the areas they do have jurisdiction over.”

    Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, argued that the market already is regulating cable and video services and consumers can turn to satellite or Internet TV if they’re displeased. “In years past cable was your only option,” he said. “But today it’s not. It’s not exactly a monopoly. Why burden the cable company with more regulation and another set of standards, that they don’t know yet what they will be, when they’re already subject to competition?”

    Cheryl P. McCormick, CEO of the Louisiana Cable and Telecommunications Association, added in an interview prior to the hearing: “We’re already regulated on the federal level by the FCC, and there’s more competition in the video services field than there has ever been. We believe more regulation is not the answer.”

    —The House Ways and Means Committee continued its revenue-raising march through the session Monday by passing a package of bills that would cap current spending levels for the movie tax credit program and begin the process of collecting Internet sales taxes.

    Following roughly three hours of public testimony, the committee approved without objection HB 276 by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, to place a $200 million limit on the motion picture investor tax credit program. Harris originally wanted a phase out of the program but settled for a cap instead.

    He told lawmakers, who listened to several passionate and personal stories from the people who work in the industry, that it was a matter of priorities. The movie program may help drive up tourism, Harris said, but it can’t help cure the state’s $1.6 billion shortfall.

    “The executive budget calls for closing 10 historical sites. What are they going to see?” he asked, referring to tourists who might come to Louisiana because of the movies being filmed here.

    The committee also advanced HB 704 by Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, to create an annual cap of $150 million on the movie program.

    In other action, lawmakers moved forward with three separate proposals—HB 555, HB 355 and HB 536—to begin collecting Internet sales taxes in Louisiana. All of the bills passed without objection.

    Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., labeled the push as “low-hanging fruit” for lawmakers, who need to respond to the challenges small businesses face with discounted prices online. “Small businesses are competing on an even playing field,” Hecht said.

    In the coming weeks, lawmakers in the House will be charged with sorting through all of the bills passed by Ways and Means over the past two days. Some of the bills are near duplicates, while others present alternative options to raising revenue. Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said earlier in the session that his goal was to move as many measures to the floor as possible to get ahead of what is a short timeline. The session must be adjourned by June 11.

    Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. He reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

     

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