State Legislatures

Destroying Access to Local Democracy

Most of you will have no idea what I am writing about – because you are fortunate to have more than just basic cable, and were born after the advent of cable TV.

Many of you – might not know or care – but you should –  if you claim to care about the democratic process – or are a progressive, or a liberal, or just like to spout off something about caring for your fellow man when you’re drunk.

While taking my somewhat regular look at the ALECexposed webpage today to research some model legislation, I was reading about the intricate web of legislation woven in Wisconsin.

As very similar legislation  has already been passed into law here in NC it piqued my interest.  And let me tell you Wisconsinites something — you should really care about this one.

For those of you in the industry – please excuse my simplistic approach to this issue – this is the best I could surmise from my research.

HISTORY

rabbit ears antennaBack in the “good old days”, if people wanted to watch TV they had to have an antenna either on top of the TV, next to their house or on top of their house.

Back in the seventies – cable broadcasting came about in order to provide more TV service to more people.  Because the signal to an antenna was often interfered with by tall buildings or mountains,  cables were dug underground to improve reception and to bring it to areas beyond the limited reach of broadcast antennae.

The underground areas that the corporations wanted to use for installing these cables were generally located in cities across the United States.  This is referred to as the “right-of-way” where the electric, telephone, and gas lines (aka utilities considered necessary needed to live) were then located.

right of wayThis ”right-of-way” is PUBLIC land – owned by you and me.  Back in the old days, it was determined that cable TV was entertainment, a luxury – not really needed.  So if the private, for-profit cable companies wanted to run their cables in the PUBLIC right-of-way – the cable companies would need to pay a franchise fee (aka rent payment) to the cities to use that space located underground land that belongs to the PUBLIC.

Public Access TVpublic access tv

As part of those franchise agreements allowing private for-profit cable companies to use the PUBLIC right-of-way, was the establishment of PEG programs.  PEG stands for Public, Educational and Government programming.  This is your local public access TV station.

Public – This means that the public access station is available to most any person to use their first amendment rights to do a TV show.  In my area  – every one of these shows is a local citizen spouting right wing babble.  Although in many parts of the country there are many interesting shows focusing on local and national issues, including ethnic groups, youth, seniors, the LGBT… community programming.

Educational – This is available to the schools to broadcast school board meetings, high school sports programs, high school graduations, band concerts, grade school programs, etc. on the public access TV station.

Government – This is available to government to broadcast city and county board meetings, planning meetings, utility board meetings and a host of other meetings that are suppose to be “open meetings”.

vocational programming on public access tvAnd let’s not forget job creation.  Many Public Access TV stations broadcast programming that provides valuable training  to local teens and adults which can help them to learn employable skills.

But don’t believe for a split second that the funding for this was given to the cities out of the cable companies’ goodwill.  The negotiation of franchise renewals continues to be a bitter and horrendous process – a Private v. Public “death-match” every time.

Meanwhile,  the well financed private corporations are effectively acting as a cartel–carving up the country between themselves so that they do not have to have any costly competition with each other…essentially monopolies in their own marketing areas.

In these franchise renewal negotiations the arrogance of the Private cable companies is on display as the use of YOUR Public right-of-way is a bone of contention.  These corporations want to be able to use the right-of-way for Corporations are not Peoplefree–this is just taken for granted.  Apparently this fits well with their corporate personhood,  No restrictions on their profits are acceptable.  Regulations to ensure that Public Access TV remains Public are anathema.  In the pursuit of ever greater revenues – these corporations demonstrate nothing but absolute disdain for the Public services that are part and parcel of Public Access TV.

And that is where the association with ALEC comes in along with cable-company-specific ALEC “model” legislation comes in.

Many Public Access stations across the United States are losing their funding from the cable companies because of ALEC legislation.  The aim of this ALEC legislation is take the franchise negotiations away from the city level and put the negotiations at the state level – where ALEC’s Corporate Member cable companies negotiate with ALEC Legislative Members in the state legislatures.
ALECexposed

Quoting very liberally from ALECexposed, here is an interesting timetable for you to consider:

First, in Wisconsin,, there was the The Broadband Deployment Act of 2003, which freed the telecom industry from oversight.  Check out the resemblance to ALEC’s Broadband and Telecommunications Deployment Act

Then came  a Municipal Broadband bill from 2004, which blocked municipalities from competing with corporate providers of broadband services.  A remarkable resemblance to ALEC’s Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act

And a 2007 Telephone Deregulation Bill, ending public oversight and regulations in Wisconsin for telephone services, looks like the ALEC Advanced Voice Services Availability Act of 2007

And the Video Competition Act, eliminating municipal cable franchises and freeing companies from their previously-negotiated contracts.  Considering that it looks like the ALEC Cable and Video Competition Act, there certainly appears to be a strategy at work for the possible takeover (perhaps privatization?) of Wisconsin’s Public Access TV,


Do Not Forget
The services that are provided by Public Access TV to the public include:

Public – which gives people the chance to voice their first amendment rights to a larger audience.

Educational – which gives people the opportunity to see events that they cannot physically or financially attend.

Government – which gives the public access to their government.  Even when they are working 10 – 12 hour days – the public can watch the government meetings on TV and know what is happening in their community and comment to their city / county representatives.  They can see for themselves just who their elected representatives are indeed representing,  Transparency in government.

Many of you may not watch public access TV – but many people do.

Just because some don’t watch it – does not mean that public access TV should not be available.

As I stated earlier – franchise negotiations appear to be fierce – with the cable companies wielding their well-paid lawyers against public servants.  Many towns don’t have the expertise or the money to pay for the legal expertise to properly negotiate with the legions of highly paid cable lawyers.  And thus many cities across the United States are losing most funding for public access TV or all funding for public access TV.

Think about it – just for a moment. There is something horribly wrong with this ALEC, legislators, corporationsscenario.  ALEC Corporate private sector members come into the state legislature and negotiate cable franchise agreements (for the cities) with ALEC state legislators.  If this piece of ALEC “model” legislation has not already been implemented in your state (and it has been in some) – it will be introduced by an ALEC state legislator sooner than later.

When the public no longer has access to their local government (as provided by public access TV), democracy at the most local level is diminished and that is what ALEC’s pro-cable company “model” legislation and your state ALEC legislator are doing – reducing access to democracy  to increase profits / revenues for some very large corporations.

If you check the corporations listed at ALECExposed – you will find your cable provider.  They attend ALEC meetings to promote legislation that increases cable corporate revenues / profits – with total disregard for the needs of the public.

 

 

The Cabal Exposed

This is a series of articles published by Truthout which reports on “The Other ALECs”.  A great deal of time and research is evident in these reports, and while some of the claims made in the articles do not match our research findings–I’m sure that these differences will be examined soon–we want you to read these articles to see how ALEC is just one member of what we have been calling The Cabal

The Other ALECs: A Look at the Lesser Known Stealth Lobbies That Write Bills for Your State
“other stealth lobbyists have penetrated bipartisan trade associations for state government officials – groups subsidized by taxpayers. In particular, corporate lobbies advance their agendas through the Council of State Governments – whose multimillion-dollar budget is mostly taxpayer funded – and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Through these innocuously named organizations, lobbyists exploit a well-tethered network of nonprofits representing state-level officials to advance the agendas of their corporate clientele.”

Part 1: Uncovering the Other ALECs
The Other Bill Mill – The Council for State Gpvernment (CSG). 
Upon being sworn into office, all state-level legislators (there are about 7,500 of them total), as well as their respective legislative staffs, automatically become CSG members. The organization’s membership also includes representatives from the executive and judicial branches of state governments.

The National Conference of State Legislatures NCSL, considered an “instrumentality of the states” by the IRS, has served a “forum for America’s Ideas since 1975.” NCSL plays host to a series of educational conferences and task force meetings, and like its cousin, CSG, it boasts a membership that includes every state-level elected official in the United States.

Though not directly responsible for any policy positions, per se, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation(SLLF) says that it is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization established in 1972 for the express purpose of providing our nation’s state legislative leaders with information on critical public policy issues and aspects of leadership.”

Part 2: Exposed: The Other ALECs’ Corporate Playbook
Founded in 1988, Stateside is self-described as the “industry leader” in state and local governmental affairs counseling. The company’s home pagetempts potential clients with a program that “transcends the conventional categories” of lobbying. The page further explains: “State and local government relations – done well – protects the bottom line, promotes brand awareness, builds champions among policymakers and safeguards the ability of corporations and associations to succeed.”  A lobbying behemoth – the self-proclaimed largest firm of its kind – Stateside has enough tricks up its sleeve to tackle even the most difficult, and often delicate, lobbying cases.

The niche of stealth lobbying is so profitable that in addition to Stateside, other firms also participate. One is MultiState Associates. This firm, founded four years before Stateside in 1984, employs the same overall strategy of using the Groups to promote corporate agendas.  MultiState offers a flexible, “full range” program to respond to the changing needs of corporate clients.

Sometimes even the best stealth lobbyists need a little help from like-minded friends.  For this, they turn to lobbyist trade associations like the State Government Affairs Council (SGAC). SGAC is a private organization, fully funded by contributions from the private sector. Over 182 multinational corporations and/or their affiliated trade associations paid for a SGAC membership in 2012.

What we at VLTP call ALEC DNA, is replicated by “The Playbook”, the M.O. for these “Other ALECs”.

Step One: Fund Groups
Step Two: Representation on Group Boards, Task Forces
Step Three
Set a pro-business Education Agenda
Step Four
: Schmooze
Step Five: Model Legislation
Step Six: Model Bills Distributed Nationwide

Part 3: How Big Business Has Triumphed in State Legislatures on Civil Liberties, Higher Education and Energy

Many people concerned about these policies, though, may not realize that the assault on the civil liberties of dissenters in the United States in some instances pre-dated the post-9/11 era. Many also do not realize that a number of recent policies that undermine civil liberties have been advanced through state governments and not just federal agencies.  Left off the table, probably accidentally: who defines “terrorism” and what his/her/the organization’s agenda is, the motives behind labeling a group or person a terrorist (and leaving other people or groups off the list), and how malleable the term has been, as Greenwald pointed out, since its popularization in the United States in the 1980s under then-President Ronald Reagan.

The Other ALECs’ higher education agenda goes well beyond performance standards and delves into the sphere of student loan debt and the privatization of public universities.

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants. This bill was a CSG model months before it became an ALEC model.

The CSG agenda goes above and beyond the actual promotion of the production of dirty energy resources like fracking and ethanol and into the promotion of the burial of carbon into the ground in a process known as carbon sequestration, sometimes also referred to by propagandists as “clean coal.” Put more bluntly: this model bill was written by the oil and gas industry, for the oil and gas industry.

Part 4: The Other ALECs’ K-12 Education Agenda Exposed  The economic crisis has created a rationale for ALEC and other stealth lobbyists to push privatization campaigns while claiming that they are necessary “reforms” for improving our failing education system, according to Brian Jones, a teacher and New York-based activist featured in the education documentary “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.”  “For the charter operators, ‘reform’ means more money, bigger salaries, etc. For the politicians, it means they get to shout to working and poor people about how they’re reforming education, while doing a huge favor to wealthy, powerful interests,” Jones told Truthout.

The Gates Foundation alone gave $400,000 to a CSG program dedicated to “reforming” public education and pushing charter schools. Gates also financially supports a CSG initiative to collaborate with Boeing to create “fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement.” None of these contributions even account for Microsoft’s sizable donations to CSG.

 

CSG’s “Model” for Public Education
Charter Schools;
Teacher Tenure/Education Identifier Initiatives;
Innovation Zones

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.  To read the entire Truthout series on The Other ALECs, they may be found at the following links:

http://truth-out.org/news/item/10506-the-other-alecs-a-look-at-the-lesser-known-stealth-lobbies-that-write-bills-for-your-state%20%E2%80%A6

http://truth-out.org/news/item/9033-subverting-the-statehouse-uncovering-the-other-alecs

http://truth-out.org/news/item/9889-exposed-the-other-alecs-corporate-playbook

http://truth-out.org/news/item/10316-how-big-business-has-trumped-the-peoples-will-in-state-legislatures-on-civil-liberties-higher-education-and-energy-policy

http://truth-out.org/news/item/10435-the-other-alecs-k-12-education-agenda-exposed