Royal rumble on Capitol Hill over cable bill

To get the full picture, check out our list of who is lobbying for whom over what

Before a packed audience this morning at Legislative Plaza, advocates made their case for legislation to allow video-services companies to secure a single statewide video franchise, instead of having to negotiate individually with balkanized municipalities.

Given the number of political heavyweights in the conference room, a wrestling ring might have been a more appropriate venue. The only thing missing was a guest referee.

In one corner, AT&T Tennessee President Marty Dickens and lobbyists for AT&T Tennessee and its allies watched intensely as State Senators Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) spoke of their bill, sometimes with hesitation.

In the other corner, those loyal to Tennessee Municipal League (TML), Comcast, Time Warner, Charter Communications and the umbrella group of the Tennessee Cable Television Communications Association seemed ready to leap out of the audience and over the top rope to kill the bill, right then and there.

Within two hours of today's round-one theatrics, TML Executive Director Margaret Mahery issued a statement describing the bill as "bad for consumers" and implying that the four sponsors of the bill have, in their dealings with AT&T, been on something akin to "a bad blind date," in which the suitor is insincere and fails to satisfy "the grand promises and high expectations."

Largely unseen, meanwhile, were the added legions of lobbyists who have been retained by the opposing fighters. They are listed at the end of this article.

The four sponsors of the proposed "Competitive Cable and Video Services Act" say the statewide franchising law would encourage more video-service providers to enter the Tennessee market with innovative technologies, thereby affording consumers a broader array of programming and service options. In theory, that competition would drive down prices for individual voice, video, internet and data services, or bundles thereof.

The sponsors say they believe that once network providers can acquire "a single video franchise that stretches statewide," rather than having to engage in often-protracted negotiations with individual cities, those companies will deploy new technology and services more rapidly.

During this morning's press conference, Ketron sidestepped questioning about whether his team had truly negotiated the issues with municipalities, indicating instead that the sponsors and their representatives had discussed the matter and then "negotiated" with AT&T changes in earlier versions of the bill, which they thought would appease the Tennessee Municipal League.

State Rep. Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said, "the Tennessee legislature could take no stronger step to promote competition," than passage of the proposed franchise law. Curtiss told NashvillePost.com this morning that once the bill is assigned to a committee, he anticipates broad-ranging hearings to allow industry and public comment on the proposal.

Yesterday, NashvillePost.com reported that McNeely Pigott & Fox, for AT&T, and Hall Strategies, in the cable industry's corner, would be managing communications "spin" on the two sides of this issue.

Today, NashvillePost.com brings you the list of lobbyists who will be doing the grunt work in this battle royale. While they can't wine and dine legislators like they used to, the people listed below will be roaming ths halls of Legislative Plaza twisting arms, cutting deals, and holding nothing back on behalf of their clients. For instance, lobbyists today will recuit constituents and business leaders familiar with the bill, and with the elected official, to make phone calls into the offices of targeted legislators.

Here's the list, derived from conversations with the players and from public records.

AT&T:

  • Dennis Wagner
  • Jim Spears
  • Beth Winstead
  • David McMahan
  • James Earl

BellSouth:

  • Bill Jeans
  • Nathan Poss
  • Michael Warmsley
  • Holly Salmons
  • Rob Kincaid
  • Bo Johnson
  • Nathan Greene
  • John Lyell
  • Anna Windrow
  • Baylor Bone Swinndell
  • Randy Camp

Cingular:

  • Dick Lodge
  • Leslie Hafner

Verizon Wireless & Verizon:

  • Dan Elrod
  • Mandy Young
  • Mark Smith
  • Holly McDaniel

On the other side:

TCTA (Time Warner, Charter Communications, etc.):

  • Betty Anderson
  • Steve Adams
  • Stacey Briggs
  • Ashley Cates
  • Nathalie Essex
  • John Farris
  • James Schmidt
  • Charles B. Welch Jr.

Tennessee Municipal League:

  • Denise Page
  • Margaret Mahery
  • Chad Jenkins

Comcast:

  • Curtis Person III

Cities of Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga:

  • Jane Alvis

City of Nashville:

  • Eddie Davidson

City of Knoxville:

  • Fred Thompson Jr.

City of Memphis:

  • Joe Kent
  • Rufus Jones
  • Gladys Jones

City of Chattanooga:

  • Matt Lee

(A number of other cities, including Bartlett, Johnson City, Cookeville and others, have lobbyists who have apparently not waded into this legislative battle... yet.)

This is an excellent by vagabard