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Union Roundup

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There’s breaking news as we prepare to go to press. No, not that thelong-dreaded writer’s strike is actually on, or that the owners andworkers in this particular instance have come to an agreement. In fact,for such updates, I refer you to our ongoing strike blog at the BTLwebsite – inasmuch as this refreshingly analog newsprint column will befixed and unupdatable for the few weeks it remains “on the street,”anything is possible. Though we should – yes, Mr. Dylan, even without aweatherman – know which way the wind is blowing, for sure, by the nextcolumn.
It’s blowing in a kind of strike-y direction, actually, but more about that down column.
Instead,the breaking news comes from Sacramento, where the state assembly hasfinished an all-nighter to pass a state budget. The way it now works inCalifornia, since the passing of our school and infrastructure-guttingProposition 13, is that a 2/3 majority is needed to pass any budget.
Nota majority, but a “super majority.” Which means, of course, that a tinyminority – 1/3 plus 1 – has veto power over any budget. In Californiathese days, that tends to be the GOP. And true to form, they demandedhuge cuts in the money going to public transportation, schools, etc.(why build schools when you can build prisons instead?) before theywould assent.
They also wanted a package of tax breaks forCalifornia-based businesses. Well, they didn’t get to cut schoolfunding, they decidedly, as of this writing, got to cut transportationspending (are those smiles on the faces of various oil company boardsof directors?), and they got their tax breaks.
Including a bunch forfilm studios – “incentives for movie studios to remain in California,”as the San Jose Mercury News puts it. This is doubtless Nunez’sproduction tax credit, being termed a proposal to keep the very studiosthemselves here, but specifics are scant at press time.
The dollaramount of the overall package is still in question too, with proponentssaying it’s a modest $150 million or so, but state Senate leader DonPerata, the Oakland Democrat, claimed the tote board would end up morelike a half a billion dollars.
And yes, we’ve switched from talkingabout the Assembly to the Senate, and that’s important – becausethere’s no guarantee the current budget “compromise” will stay intactin the state Senate – including those still-unspecified inducements tokeep the entertainment wings of News Corp., GE, etc., based here insunny Southern California.
But the rhetorical battle is alreadyjoined. “How could you now throw (teachers) over for Hollywood moviemoguls and multinational corporations???” Perata asked in a letter toassembly leader Fabian Nunez.
Oh, the teachers? They had one of their tax credits stripped away.
TheSenate ratification of the budget was initially considered a formality,and indeed may still happen by the end of the day, at which time wewill know what kinds of largesse studios will be enjoying while publicrail 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 important Hollywood issue is beingplayed out off the collective radar: net neutrality, the termdescribing an equal access philosophy to consumer broadband. Carriersgearing up for higher-speed broadband rollouts – like AT&T and TimeWarner – aren’t too enamored, because they are advocating a two-tieredsystem of high-speed net access – charging more to deliver content(especially memory-rich content like YouTube clips, etc.) at, well, afirst-class pace. The pace you’re used to right now.
Companies thatcan’t or won’t pay higher access fees will still have contentdelivered, only think now in third-class or media-mail terms. Hence,net neutrality, to make sure that broadband providers won’t be able toturn the Internet into, well, cable TV.
Bush’s Federal TradeCommission recently issued a report coming out against net neutralityand the official lobbying group of the studios, the MPAA, is against it.
Indeed,in a CNET article by Anne Broache, covering the FCC side of the debate,commented, “Hollywood hasn’t decided what it thinks about the whole‘net neutrality’ debate, but it knows one thing: Any rules that wouldstunt roll-out of the next new whiz-bang filtering technologies orencourage unfettered sharing of copyrighted works over peer-to-peernetworks would be very, very bad. … That’s the gist of the 9-pagecomments that the Motion Picture Association of America filed with theFederal Communications Commission this week.”
And later in the samearticle: “The general counsel of NBC-Universal has already suggestedthe FCC should require broadband providers to be more proactive aboutfiltering copyrighted content that traverses their networks. About adozen public-interest and consumer advocacy groups hit back at thosecomments this week, arguing such a proposal is not only technologicallyimpractical but could also threaten fair use and free expression rights.
Andthat, dear reader, brings us back full circle to the brewing writer’sstrike. At the same time the corporate side is telling scribes that noone 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 awaywith residuals all together?”), they’re lining up their ducks to make,well, most of their money there
Especially when you consider thehigh-speed pipelines getting prepped for everyone’s homes. Sure, DVDsales are off. But just wait: Downloads are coming.
Especially, that is, if you can afford to pay for premium internet.
See you next roundup.
Write Union Roundup: [email protected]

Written by Mark London Williams

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