Re:  Threat to Cable TV franchise fees

Wisconsin Community Media has been informed by several sources, including the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, that the cable industry is pushing to have the small cell bill (Senate Bill 425) amended to include language that would end, sunset, or reduce cable TV franchise fees -- the fees we depend on to do our work.

This is a very serious threat.

SB425 has been held back from reaching the floor since October by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R - Juneau).  We heard directly from a legislator in October on WCM's Legislative Day that the cable lobby has been pushing hard for an amendment to this bill that would eliminate or otherwise reduce franchise fees to municipalities.

Opportunities to vote on SB425 are dwindling.  The session is nearly over.  According to Curt Witynski of the League, the Senate is scheduled to meet only one more time on March 20.  The Assembly's last floor session was yesterday, but it could decide to reconvene to consider bills passed by the Senate after the Senate's last floor session.  We need you and/or your public officials to contact your state senators and tell them how BAD an idea it is to eliminate cable franchise fees.

Here's what you need to tell your State Senator: 

We have learned that the cable industry is pushing for an amendment to Senate Bill 425, the small cell bill, that would harm or eliminate the collection of cable TV franchise fees.    The small cell bill as it now stands establishes uniform statewide regulations allowing cell phone companies to place small antennas in municipal rights of way and possibly on municipal poles.  

1.  The loss or cutback of cable franchise fees would be devastating to community television and municipal budgets. Cable TV franchise fees pay for the operation of community television centers (public, education, and government access - PEG) and other public information services that promote government transparency and community and economic development.  Without this revenue, media access centers would close and cable access channels would go dark.  (Franchise fees are typically 5% on gross video revenues.)

2. Local governments have no way to replace Cable TV Franchise Revenue due to levy limits.

3. Both Cable Companies and Telephone Companies are assessed a franchise fee equally when they use the public rights of way to sell multi-channel video services.  The phone and broadband services they sell are already exempt from the fee.

4.  Community television is already financially stressed due to the elimination of PEG fees that the cable industry successfully got rid of in 2007 when state franchise legislation (Act 42) was passed.  Two centers have recently closed just in the last few months -- MATA Community Media of Milwaukee and New Eye Media of Brown County.

5.  This is exactly THE WRONG TIME to touch cable TV franchise fees.  Municipalities need the funding to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires municipalities to make all communications accessible to people with disabilities, including video.  If anything, PEG fees should be RESTORED as a local option to help with the ADA effort.

6.  Charter Spectrum, the only major cable company serving cities across the state, has been delinquent and should not be rewarded.

  • Charter Spectrum refuses to cooperate with municipalities that want their cable access channel programs listed in the Electronic Program Guide.  Without these listings, viewers CANNOT SEE what is on community television and they also cannot RECORD programs for view later. Only a handful are on the guide now.

  • Charter Spectrum refuses to carry community access channels in HD, even though nearly all municipalities produce their local programming in HD and SD reception is grainy and puts off viewers.


All municipalites in all states are able to collect cable television franchise fees.  Most are also collecting PEG fees.  Local community coverage is important and WILL go away if this amendment to SB 425 passes. 

Thank you for talking with your local official and calling or emailing your state senator ASAP!  I am attaching a letter template as a starting point for your correspondence.  Please add your local perspective and any additional points you want to make.