After months of intense and extremely expensive lobbying, the legislature has overwhelmingly approved a bill (64-5 in the Assembly, 33-4 in the Senate) revamping the cable franchise system to make it easier for telephone companies to enter this lucrative market. The selling point is that more competition will lead to lower consumer prices. Not everyone agrees with this concept. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law, which means cable-access stations and local government officials in the North Bay and statewide are scrambling to understand exactly how this new law will impact local communities. “There’s still a lot of questions and a lot of details we don’t know yet,” says Dan Villalva, interim executive director for Community Media Center of Santa Rosa, which operates channels 69, 70, 71 and 72 in that area. More than 300 amendments were made to AB 2987 as it wound its way through the legislative process, starting in April. Reportedly, AT&T and Verizon spent more than $19.7 million on lobbying efforts in April, May and June, to the tune of $200,000 daily. Originally, the bill voided all local franchise agreements–which usually detail carefully negotiated forms of specific financial support for access stations–in favor of statewide contracts with a standard 1 percent for access programs. However, the final legislation requires cable companies to perform any services already promised in existing contracts. “For Santa Rosa, we seem to be protected for another five years because our contract runs for five years,” Villalva explains. “After that, it’s a whole new ball game.” He adds that 1 percent may be enough in large urban areas to keep cable access stations broadcasting everything from local programming to city council meetings, but it will be inadequate elsewhere. “The biggest losers are the ones that don’t have something in place right now in the rural and small communities. You can almost guarantee that they will never have access.”
Recovering alcoholics and addicts and their friends are invited to the all-day Recovery Happens celebration on Sunday, Sept. 10. “The goal is to celebrate the fact that recovery works, that treatment works, and to help reduce the stigma experienced by people who suffer from addiction,” says Sarah Moore of the Sonoma County Recovery Happens Coalition. Everything kicks off at 9am with a rally in front of the Sonoma County Administration Building, 575 Administration Drive. There will be a Faces of Recovery march to Franklin Park, 2095 Franklin Drive. The afternoon includes a free picnic, a softball tournament and activities for kids. For more details, call 707.565.6945 or visit www.sonoma-county.org/recoveryhappens.