Yes, there would probably be mixed opinions about any legislation designed specifically to kill Nashville's "Bat Poet," the zany skit-filled program that airs Fridays and Saturdays on Nashville's public-access television channel 19.
No, there's no evidence AT&T and the General Assembly actually want to harm "Bat Poet" Joey Bowker, who, between his shifts driving for a local taxi company, has been the show's creator and chief actor for 13 years.
However, many legislators debating the "Competitive Cable and Video Services" bill believe it would be proper to require local governments to negotiate public-access services with video providers apart from franchise agreements.
They argue that funding for public access should be done "in front of God and everbody," as one legislator put it, rather than left submerged in franchise contracts, where they become a hidden cost for consumers.
Putting that much sunlight on a show like "The Bat Poet"... well, you get the point.
In the ongoing video-franchise debate on Capitol Hill, the fate of community access television is one of many issues that will have to be addressed, if the legislation is to move forward.
For good or ill, under a scenario now playing-out in the General Assembly, it's likely that either the current video-franchise debate logjam will soon be broken, or the proposal for statewide video-services permits long sought by AT&T Tennessee will be shelved for another year.
Legislators have this week set into motion a series of events that promise to strain, if not break relationships in many quarters — creating both "winners and losers," all in the hope of salvaging legislation that many believe could save Tennessee consumers more than $170 million per year by attracting new competitors for consumers' entertainment dollars.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), plus Utilities and Banking Subcommittee Chair Curt Cobb (D-Shelbyville), Senate Commerce Chair Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) and the bill's bipartisan sponsors are among those making a fresh push to clear the way for an up-or-down vote on the bill.
Curtiss has admonished all parties to let him know by close of business tomorrow whether or not they will, themselves, convene in good faith to work out a compromise bill. Otherwise, he and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Southerland will convene everyone for closed-door negotiations.
The main groups in Curtiss' crosshairs are AT&T, the Tennessee Municipal League, the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association and the Tennessee County Services Association and their allies.
In a parallel "put up or shut up" move, Curtiss and Southerland have also both made pointed requests that all parties submit to them by next Monday each camp's list of all problems they see, with corresponding proposed solutions.
In an equally momentous step, Cobb has requested that Attorney General Bob Cooper provide a formal opinion regarding whether or not the proposed video legislation violates the contracts clauses of the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and whether or not a Tennessee local government entity would be recognized by courts as having standing to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation. Cooper has not yet responded.
Either way, Curtiss said, "I'm going to try do everything I can to make a level playing field" that ensures, among other things, that an incumbent franchisee is not "shackled" in comparison to a new entrant to the marketplace.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), who is lead sponsor for the "Competitive Cable and Video Services" bill in the Senate, may have set into motion the beginning of the end of the current alliance between the cable industry and city and county governments.
Ketron told NashvillePost.com he has extended a fresh invitation to the cable industry to step away from its tight alliance with municipalities and participate in curing flaws in the bill. No word from the cable camp as to its response.
However, both national and Tennessee cable-industry executives have confirmed to NashvillePost.com that the industry would quickly abandon its alliance with cities and counties if it seemed that statewide franchising was about to pass without them.
According to them, cable will insist on being allowed immediately to "opt-in" to statewide franchising, with legislative authorization to terminate their existing local contracts, if they wish.
A national cable-industry executive explained that the industry had not accepted such reality when it was upon them in Texas, where statewide franchising passed without such provisions. The industry subsequently vowed, "Never again."