Charter offers free cable TV time to legislators

Less than 24 hours after a Tennessee House panel killed a municipal broadband expansion bill opposed by the cable industry, Charter Communications offered state lawmakers a chance to star in their very own “public service announcements” aimed at cable-watching constituents, reports the Times-Free Press.

In his invitation, Nick Pavlis, investor-owned Charter’s director of government affairs in Tennessee, says that “as a leading broadband communications provider and cable operator serving customers in Tennessee, Charter is committed to providing compelling public affairs programming and public service announcements.”

“We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to speak directly to your constituents,” says Pavlis, also a Knoxville city councilman, in the invitation. “Taping times are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so we encourage you to schedule yours as soon as possible.”

A copy of the invitation was obtained Wednesday by the Chattanooga Times Free Press after House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, forward the invite to representatives via email.

The PSAs are to be recorded at the state Capitol next week.

Local lawmakers involved in the broadband fight are suspicious of Charter’s offer and particularly the timing.

“Right now it would appear to those watching from the outside that big business won and big business is now reciprocating,” said Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, whose effort to offer a scaled-down compromise on his muni-broadband expansion bill was shot down Tuesday in the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee.

While Charter’s reservation of space in Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s rarely used second-floor office in the state Capitol appears to have been made before the vote, it still came as various telecommunications’ lobbyists were working against broadband bills sponsored by Brooks and other mostly Chattanooga-area legislators.

…Charter’s offer of free time to speak on public issues also comes with lawmakers hoping to go home soon and begin reelection campaigns.

Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen said Wednesday the “conversation” about Charter Communications’ PSAs “began a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t have anything to do with the bill. It’s a public service announcement.”

Owen noted Nashville Public Television has done PSAs in the past. Asked if Charter had ever offered the opportunity to Tennessee lawmakers, Owen said “my understanding is they had done it in North Carolina.”