The invisible hand is looking to goose us all again
It's so hard being a major corporation. There are all those rules one must follow about not fleecing your customers and having to provide certain, basic levels of service and quality; it can be absolutely dreadful, really.
Thankfully, the people in charge of making those rules-politicians-love your money, and you have lots of it. Drop a few bucks in their sad little pockets and hey presto, new legislation that deregulates your business so you're free to make just as much money as you want, regardless of the needs and rights of your customers! It's a beautiful system.
In all seriousness, we saw this happen in Wisconsin with the cable deregulation bill that passed in 2007, a piece of legislation touted by lawmakers because it was supposed to lower our rates so much. Thing is, it didn't. In fact, rates have gone up since the bill took effect.
Even so, politicians are now singing the exact same song about a bill that would deregulate telecommunications companies like AT&T and TDS.
On the surface, the legislation actually makes a certain kind of sense. AT&T and the like don't feel they should be regulated like telecom utilities because they now also provide other services in addition to their traditional phone coverage like cable TV. The thinking goes that being regulated like a telecom limits their ability to compete with other cable and internet providers classified only as "alternative telecommunications utilities" which are not subject to the same regulations.
Unfortunately, the tack they've taken in seeking to level the playing field includes several provisions that are unnecessary and could be incredibly detrimental to customers and communities. Plus, no consumer advocates have been invited to the table for the drafting of the bill. Instead, chief sponsor Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee) seems to have only been working with representatives of AT&T, TDS, and the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association.
When did it become par for the course to let industry write its own laws? Yes, they should be involved in the negotiations, but allowing them to dominate the discussion and decision-making strikes me as a pretty heinous breach of the public trust.
Among other things, the new bill would:
...give AT&T the option to no longer be classified as a "telecommunications utility," a designation that means AT&T and other "TU's" would no longer be obligated to provide service to all areas of the state, would no longer have to report profits and expenses to the Public Service Commission, and would no longer have to receive rate-change approval from the PSC.
Essentially, businesses founded as landline telephone companies would no longer be regulated - as they have been for more than 100 years - as utility companies.
So if you happen to live in a more rural area (ie: a less profitable territory for the TU), under this new legislation there would be no requirement that you be offered any kind of phone, cable, or internet service at all. They wouldn't be required to maintain or improve land line service anywhere, something that many residents still rely upon despite the rise of cell phones. And cutting off people from an increasingly internet and phone driven world would spell economic disaster for many.
But hey, Plale got his wheels greased, so why complain? The Democratic senator, who was also one of the primary sponsors of the cable deregulation bill, received $1,000 from AT&T and TDS each in 2008 alone one week before introducing that legislation and in a year when he wasn't actually, y'know, running for anything. The donations represented a significant uptick in interest from telecoms, too: In the five years between '00 and '05, Plale only received a total of $2,150 from AT&T PACs.
It's worth noting that Doyle, who signed the cable bill into law, saw significant contributions from telecoms as well. So I wouldn't count on him in this case.
I'll be deeply curious to see what contributions those companies made to Plale and the bill's other political sponsors this year, in the lead up to this newest round of attempted deregulation.
In the meantime, it's vital that people speak up about this bill. Whatever your opinion about its merits or faults, truly good legislation can only happen when a wider array of voices contribute to making it happen (or not).
Second verse, same as the first: State Republicans take cues from the national leagues
The Joint Committee on Finance voted Tuesday to accept $8 million in federal stimulus money to create a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. Thank goodness. Though it will certainly take a few years for the trains to be up and running, I for one am overjoyed at the prospect of being able to cruise back and forth between cities without having to hop in a car.
For me, this will mean more concerts, more museum trips, more visits with friends, and who knows what else. I also know several people who commute to work between Madison and Milwaukee; the rail line is likely to cost them less than driving in the long-run and also mean a little, much needed downtime between home and work.
Republicans on the committee could care less about all that, though. They voted straight down party lines against accepting the money. Forget about the distinct likelihood that the project will create good paying jobs, provide a more solid connection between Wisconsin's seat of government and its biggest city, ease congestion on our interstates (and therefore possibly decrease harmful vehicle emissions), and the fact that most citizens support it.
No, the current modus operandi of many GOP politicians seems to be to oppose anything Democrats like or propose. They're doing it in Washington and now the GOP's beloved trickledown effect seems to actually be working, for once, causing state politicians to follow suit.
I suspect that even if Democrats introduced legislation 100% proven to create new jobs, Republicans would come up with a half-assed reason to oppose it.
The problems with this tactic are many and serious, though. Not only does it cause an amount of gridlock fairly unprecedented in this country, but it paints Republicans into a corner of their own making. They've demonized Democrats to such an extreme and absurd point that, should Republicans actually ever want to vote for something proposed by another party, their constituents will assume they've been betrayed and vote them out of office. (More on the solution to the national problem here)
Well done, guys.
Happily it appears their tactics won't amount to much in this case and we'll get that rail line yet. And when it turns out to be a success, guess who'll be scrambling to claim they actually supported it all along? It's all so terribly predictable.
As an important post script to this topic, check out Ald. Bryon Eagon's blog post about the debate over where to locate the Madison train station. He, like many including myself, makes a great argument for choosing the Yahara location (corner of E. Washington and First St.) and provides several good resource links to support the cause.
The tragic scandal of the Wisconsin Shares daycare program, as uncovered by the tireless efforts of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters, has led some to stage a serious drive to make kindergarten mandatory for Wisconsin children. The idea being that if all children, regardless of their family's income, had a good, educational place to go during the day (i.e. kindergarten), then there'd be little to no need for the current and very expensive daycare program.
I was alerted to this effort by Maria Abramovich at Change.org. Honestly, I had no idea kindergarten wasn't mandatory in Wisconsin. I grew up in a place where school for 4-year-olds and up was the norm, so it just never occurred to me that it wouldn't exist in this state. Early childhood education has been shown, time and time again, to be a crucially important part of development for kids. I know I gained a lot from it. And not only does it provide kids with a leg-up come grade school, but it helps working parents by providing a safe, enriching place for their children to be during the day.
Plus, it saves the state money: The costs per child for the initial program are lower than state subsidized daycare, and produces "a return on investment of $17 for every dollar spent, plus the savings that result from fewer of those children growing up to need remedial education or welfare or ending up in jail."
Kindergarten just makes sense. And unfortunately the gross mishandling and abuse of the Wisconsin Shares daycare program has only served to further prove that point. Please consider signing the petition to make free, public, accredited kindergarten mandatory for all of Wisconsin's children.