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HomeBlog the LineUnion Roundup: Of "Internets" and budget logjams

Union Roundup: Of “Internets” and budget logjams

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for those of you adverse to “hard copy,” this is from the current street edition of
“Below the Line,” written as press time concurred with an apparent “breakthrough” in Sacramento on a state budget. Since that time, the budget has remained stalemated in the state Senate:”

There’s breaking news as we write this and prepare to go to press. No, not that the long-dreaded writer’s strike is actually on, or that the owners and workers in this particular instance have come to an agreement.

In fact, for such updates, I refer you to our ongoing strike blog at the BTL website – inasmuch as this refreshingly analog newsprint column will be fixed and unupdatable for the few weeks it remains “on the street,” anything is possible. Though we should – yes, Mr. Dylan, even without a weatherman – know which way the wind is blowing, for sure, by the next column.

Instead, the breaking news comes from Sacramento, where the state assembly has finished an all-nighter to pass a state budget. For those of you who aren’t actually paid – and thus fiscally coerced – to follow these things, the way it works in California, since the passing of our legendary, school and infrastructure-gutting Proposition 13 (and subsequent “tax-revolt” measures) is that a 2/3 majority is needed to pass any budget.
Not a majority, reflecting the simple will of the people, but a “super majority.” Which means, of course, that a tiny minority – 1/3 plus 1 – has veto power over any budget. In California these days, that tends to be the GOP. And true to form, they demanded huge cuts in the money going to public transportation, schools, etc. (why build schools when you can build prisons, instead?) before they would assent.

Rumblings in California, as the budget remains unpassed

They also wanted a package of tax breaks for California-based businesses. Well, they didn’t get to cut school funding, they decidedly, as of this writing, got to cut transportation spending (are those smiles on the faces of various oil company boards of directors?), and they got their tax breaks.

Including a bunch for film studios – “incentives for movie studios to remain in California,” as the San Jose Mercury News puts it. This is doubtless Nunez’ production tax credit, being termed a proposal to keep the very studios themselves here, but specifics are scant at press time.

The dollar amount of the overall package is still in question too, with proponents saying it’s a modest $150 million or so, but state Senate leader Don Perata, the Oakland Democrat, claimed the tote board would be more like a half a billion dollars when all was said and done.

And yes, we’ve switched from talking about the Assembly to the Senate, and that’s important – because there’s no guarantee the current budget “compromise” will stay intact in the state Senate – including those still-unspecified inducements to keep the entertainment wings of News Corp., GE, etc., based here in sunny Southern California.
But the rhetorical battle is already joined. “How could you now throw (teachers) over for Hollywood movie moguls and multinational corporations???” Perata asked in a letter to assembly leader Fabian Nunez.

Fabian Nunez did his part.

We didn’t mention the teachers yet? They had one of their tax credits stripped away.
The Senate ratification of the budget was initially considered a formality, and indeed may still happen by the end of the day, at which time, we will know what kinds of largesse studios (and various tech and bio-tech) companies will be enjoying while public rail lines and school teachers do not.

Once the bleariness and stinging broadsides get sorted out in the state Capitol, we will bring it all to you.

Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, another issue important to Hollywood is mostly being played out off the collective radar: That would be net neutrality, the term describing an equal access philosophy to consumer broadband.Carriers gearing up for wider, higher-speed broadband rollouts – like AT&T and Time Warner – aren’t too enamored, because they (AT&T especially), are advocating a two-tiered system of high-speed net access – charging more to deliver content (especially memory-rich content like YouTube clips, etc.) at, well, a first-class pace. The pace you’re used to right now.

Toll booths ahead for the Web?

Companies that can’t or won’t pay higher access fees will still have content “delivered” to eyeballs, only think now in third-class or media-mail terms. Hence, net neutrality, to make sure that broadband providers won’t be able to turn the Internet (which, like the airwaves, began as a public trust, and used government subsidies to create much of the hardwired infrastructure) into, well, cable TV.

Bush’s Federal Trade Commission recently issued a report coming out against net neutrality – if people can’t access political chat sites from library computers, say, what’s the big deal? Citizen advocacy groups on both the left and the right, by the way, favor net neutrality – and the official lobbying group of the studios, the MPAA, is against it.
Indeed, in a CNET article posted by writer Anne Broache, covering the FCC side of the debate, she commented, “Hollywood hasn’t decided what it thinks about the whole ‘net neutrality’ debate, but it knows one thing: Any rules that would stunt roll-out of the next new whiz-bang filtering technologies or encourage unfettered sharing of copyrighted works over peer-to-peer networks would be very, very bad. … That’s the gist of the 9-page comments that the Motion Picture Association of America filed with the Federal Communications Commission this week.”

And later in the same article: “The general counsel of NBC-Universal has already suggested the FCC should require broadband providers to be more proactive about filtering copyrighted content that traverses their networks. About a dozen public-interest and consumer advocacy groups hit back at those comments this week, arguing such a proposal is not only technologically impractical but could also threaten fair use and free expression rights.”

And that, dear reader, brings us back full circle to the brewing writer’s strike. At the same time the corporate side is telling scribes that no one knows if there’ll be any money on the new technology side of things (“Oh, and while we’re at it,” they’ve added recently, “shall we do away with residuals all together?”), they’re lining up their ducks to make, well, most of their money there.

Especially when you consider the high-speed pipelines getting prepped for everyone’s homes. Sure, DVD sales are off. But just wait: Downloads are coming.

Especially, that is, if you can afford to pay for premium internet.

See you next roundup.

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