Only federal action will complement New Jersey legislation

For the first time in decades, New Jersey’s consumers will soon have a choice of who provides their cable television service.

Thanks to a law recently signed by Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey’s cable giants will have to shape up and fly right. Gone are the days of skyrocketing cable rates and lousy service. We can expect cable rates to drop immediately and improved service to consumers now that cable companies finally have some competition.

Achieving consumer choice in video services in New Jersey was a long and hard battle. The cable companies deployed an army of high-priced lobbyists to preserve their statutory monopoly.

The law establishing local monopolies dates back to the 1970s and was intended to provide municipal oversight of what was then a newly emerging technology: cable television.

Because technology moves faster than the government, the well-intentioned law became a roadblock that stifled competition and reduced choices. It led to a patchwork of town-by-town monopolies, ever-escalating bills and frustrating service.

Gov. Corzine’s action means new choices and lower prices for consumers and new jobs for thousands of skilled workers in New Jersey.

Verizon has already entered the market and begun deployment of fiber optic networks throughout the state. Others are sure to follow.

We can expect significant investment from nationwide communications companies and small independent specialty providers. Incumbent cable companies will be freed from their traditional boundaries and can expand to new markets.

All of this is overwhelmingly positive for New Jersey. But it is only one battle; there is still a war to be won in the U.S. Senate for a national franchise system that would open markets across the country and offer video choice to all Americans.

So why would that benefit New Jersey?

Simply put, because we are already ahead of the nation and can leverage that position into more and better jobs for New Jersey residents and a raft of new technologies for Garden State consumers.

With a nationwide system in place, countless other major telecom providers will take their cue from Verizon and launch their efforts from New Jersey .

In addition to following Verizon’s technological lead, it would be in everyone’s best interests if they would follow Verizon’s lead in working with organized labor to ensure that new telecom networks are reliable and service is dependable. Frustration with cable television stems directly from service that has been erratic and performance levels that are indicative of the level of training and the expertise of the non-union workforce these companies have relied upon.

Federal telecom reform is the perfect complement to our state legislation and must be passed into law this session. Hopefully, the U.S. Senate will heed the call and help New Jersey’s families and workers.

Charles Marciante