By Jim Lisk, Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006 — A bill in the North Carolina General Assembly changing the way cable companies are regulated is being questioned by Attorney General Roy Cooper.
“Although the intent of increased competition is good, I believe this legislation needs better protection for consumers,” Cooper wrote in a letter to legislators Tuesday.
Senate Bill 1559 and House Bill 2047 would change North Carolina’s practice of local franchises for cable TV to a statewide franchise if a competitor such as a phone company chooses to offer television service in the same area.
One major concern expressed by Cooper was that service providers would offer urban areas cheaper rates and smaller communities would pay more to make up the difference.
Cooper wrote there was “no real track record” because the deregulation idea was new and had been become practice in just a few communities across the country.
“I’m concerned that we are rushing into this without making sure we aren’t leaving consumers behind,” Cooper wrote.
Another concern expressed by Cooper was servicing consumer complaints.
Currently, consumers contact local government when they have a complaint. Under the new legislation, this responsibility shifts to the Attorney General’s office with no funding provided for staff to investigate complaints.
“Looking at the current experience of some local governments, there is a potential for 50,000 statewide complaints per year,” Cooper wrote.
“Now, we handle approximately 75,000 important consumer complaints annually and help get refunds and solve problems. This legislation alone would increase complaints we receive by two-thirds.”
Cooper likened the legislation to a few years back when there was push to deregulate electricity.
“We were smart to wait and see how it panned out in other states because the results weren’t good,” Cooper wrote.
Agreeing with Cooper’s wait-and-see proposal was District 67 Rep. David Almond, who said Thursday he would vote against it.
Almond said that at a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast a month ago, the legislation was discussed and all municipalities and businesses were against it.
“The municipalities are opposed to losing control,” Almond said. “The only consumer that has called me is also opposed.”
Sen. Bill Purcell has sat in on discussions in both the Commerce Committee and the Finance Committee.
“It’s a complex bill, but it seems to me having competition would give consumers more choices and ultimately lower rates,” Purcell said. “I did vote for it in the Commerce Committee.”