Plan to work into June, said House Speaker Michael Madigan at 7:20 p.m., less than five hours before the constitutional deadline to wrap up the regular spring session. He just told lawmakers that the House would work Friday, leave for an early weekend and pick up Tuesday, June 5. Gov. Rod Blagojevich could still call a special session any minute given that neither chamber has advanced a state budget to his desk. I had an idea lawmakers conceded to an overtime session because no one seemed pressured by a deadline Thursday. While late committees are scheduled and could bring up gaming, shoulders are shrugging about what could happen before the midnight deadline. We’ll keep you posted.
The telecommunications measure allowing cable and phone companies to compete in providing video services slid through the House Thursday night without the controversy that held it in limbo all session. Months of negotiations paid off for Rep. James Brosnahan, the Evergreen Park Democrat whose measure won unanimous support with two lawmakers voting present.
The proposal would allow phone companies, AT&T and Verizon being two of the major forces, to get Illinois Commerce Commission approval to offer video services anywhere throughout the state without having to go to each individual municipality as cable companies have to do right now.
The bill started with lots of opposition from the cable industry, municipalities, public access channels and consumer advocate groups that feared loss of local control, erosion of customer service standards and “cherry picking” in affluent communities rather than offering the video services to low-income areas. Stalled for months in a House committee, the bill was rewritten by the Illinois attorney general’s office. It now requires the video service providers to extend a certain percentage of their services to low-income communities within three years of earning the so-called statewide video franchise. It also empowers local governments to decide where the video provider could construct rather large utility boxes around neighborhoods, a former point of contention. And the state attorney general would have the power to enforce consumer protection standards and investigate violations.
At risk of sounding too good to be true, Brosnahan said on the House floor that the measure would lay the policy needed to spur competition that would drive down prices. And AT&T has committed to investing $750 million and creating 2,000 union jobs in spreading its video services around the state.
One of the concerns left unaddressed, according to lawmakers who spoke on the floor, was that constituents needed to know that even if Brosnahan’s bill became law, it wouldn’t guarantee competition or availability of the high-tech video services in their areas. If approved by the Senate as expected and if signed by the governor, the plan would be immediately effective and sunset six years later. That would allow the General Assembly could reevaluate if the policy succeeded in creating competition, Brosnahan said. We’ll include more reaction from the cable industry as we get it.