Lawmaker wants state to have regulatory authority over cable companies

XGR Cable TV Regulation Bill

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Many households see cable TV as a necessity and a Louisiana state lawmakers want to make sure customers are getting good quality services for the money they are doling out and some residents welcome that.

"Since I don't have competition for my service then it would be nice to have somebody who actually regulated the service, level of service," said Henrick Larsen.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty said she gets a lot of complaints about cable services.

"Obviously, we appreciate the provider."

But she said more must be done.

Hilferty has a bill in the legislature that would give the Louisiana Public Service Commission regulatory authority over cable companies, many of whom provide internet services.

"We are not intending to regulate rates. This is strictly to look at service quality," said Rep. Hilferty.

The Federal Communications Commission regulates the cable industry and in Louisiana companies register with the secretary of state.

"It's effectively signing a guest book which allows them to then move forward to create franchise agreements with municipalities and governments," said PSC member Eric Skrmetta.

People we talked to for this story had no idea there was not state regulation of capable companies.

"I was not aware of that. It does, it does surprise me, I guess I'm wondering why that is?" said Tiffany Henderson.

"Right now the Secretary of State grants the franchise for statewide companies and then some other companies have franchises with city councils and police juries around the state. Some of these city council and police juries are serving as go-betweens between the companies, providers and the constituents and they're not necessarily set up to be a regulatory body," Hilferty said.

Skrmetta said the commission passed a resolution in support of Hilferty's bill.

"I think that the commission has some authority over cable companies if they bundle their telephone services, but we still don't have any authority over the actual cable content or under rates," he said.

Skrmetta said 18 months ago, the FCC said that broadband, i.e., internet services are a public utility.

"The FCC declares the industry to be a public utility. The Constitution of the State of Louisiana requires we regulate the public utilities," he said.

And like Hilferty, he said the PSC gets a lot of complaints about cable services.

"Constantly gets every complaint call regarding cable and internet even though we have no regulatory authority."

Steve Sawyer, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs for Cox Communications, said, "We are aware of the bill and we're reviewing it right now."

A spokesperson for Charter Communications did not comment, instead referring us to the Louisiana Internet and Television Association. AT&T did not respond to our inquiries.

A similar bill failed to win legislative approval in 2015.

LCTA – The Internet & Television Association, released the following statement:

"With regard to HB 537 by Rep. Hilferty – the industry has reached out to Rep. Hilferty and we are having very productive and informative discussions with her; we hope to continue this dialogue.

"We are also evaluating the numerous bills that seek to impose millions of dollars in new sales taxes on our customers. If any of these bills are successful as currently written and implemented by both the state and local governments, the cost of everyone's cable video subscription and access to digital services, such as Video-on-Demand and Pay-Per-View, would go up by as much as 9-10% (at current rates)."

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