Cable status quo is too costly for Missouri

Saturday, April 8, 2006

By Daniel P. Mehan

Missouri families, schools and businesses strive to be their best. We want our state's accomplishments to attract others to live, work and do business here. One important way to achieve that is by implementing good state policy.

The Missouri General Assembly has had a golden opportunity to implement good state policy by embracing video franchise reform known as Senate Bill 816, or the Fair Competition in Video Act. Yet some Missouri senators have refused to eliminate the obstacles to true competition and instead have positioned our state to keep the current rules governing cable service in our state that are outdated and cumbersome and have made real cable competition impossible.

Why do you care?

Because not only is it bad economic policy, it is bad social policy and it is bad for business in Missouri.

Missouri is home to only a handful of cable providers. and most customers have only one choice for their provider. Worse, barely half of Missourians have access to cable at all. Yet there are those in the Senate who argue that we don't need to be a leader in eliminating regulatory obstacles and that "competition exists."

Facts speak louder than words.

If Missouri lawmakers embrace franchise reform, Missourians will benefit greatly. Bringing competition to the cable marketplace will benefit Missouri consumers between $23 million and $53.8 million, in the first year alone, according to a new study by the Progress and Freedom Foundation. The value of increased competition after three years skyrockets to $122.4 million to $228.2 million. As time progresses and competition blossoms, the consumer benefits are even more staggering and range from $188.7 million to $277.3 million by 2009.

Rules discouraging competition in video and advanced services have robbed our state of investment. We have yet to realize the full potential of robust investment in high-speed and advanced services statewide.

Communications companies and video providers have to be here to invest here. To date, Missouri's rules governing the video marketplace have been less than welcoming. Modernizing rules to encourage more communications companies to enter the video market will swing wide the doors of opportunity for Missouri consumers who will finally have choices in video -- many for the first time. Updated rules will welcome companies eager to do business, provide choices, and bring jobs to our state.

Hundreds of jobs and many new providers have resulted in other states that have passed franchise reform. With benefits like this on the horizon, why would we stall success in Missouri by maintaining the status quo?

The members of the Missouri General Assembly have the opportunity to upend the status quo and deliver competition, choices and technology to their constituents by supporting SB 816. But their time is running out. If it does, the cost to Missouri consumers will be significant. If the Missouri General Assembly would just act -- and act now -- consumers would reap these benefits of competition and choices, technology providers will come to our state with capital investments and Missouri will be among the front-runners in the nation to embrace such meaningful and beneficial reforms.

We can't afford for Missourians to miss out on the economic benefits of competition. We can't afford for companies to look elsewhere to do business because Missouri's laws are behind the times. We can't afford to waste another minute letting opportunity pass us by.

As the clock winds down on the legislative session, our chance to enact good public policy that will bring increased investment and competition in our state and increased options for our citizens is fading.

Daniel P. Mehan is the president/CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jefferson City, Mo.

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