April 7, 2014
A bill intended to expand broadband access for rural Iowans also includes language that could limit the ability of local governments to regulate the placement of cell towers, prompting opposition from some city officials who say the state is trying to usurp local control. The Iowa Senate and House are wrangling with the specifics of the Connect Every Iowan initiative, one of Gov. Terry Bran-stad's priorities this session.
In an effort to increase cellular and wireless coverage as well, the House's version includes provisions to streamline the cell tower siting application process across the state, essentially stripping local officials of their authority in tower placement decisions. "The language in the House bill, in my view, is pretty egregious," said Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, who is leading the effort on the Senate side. "It really took away all local control of cell tower siting."
Local governments have jurisdiction over where or if cell towers can be located within a city's limits, so cellular companies deal with different regulations as they plan projects across the state. As written, the House bill aims to regulate the process by which these companies are granted approval, establishing a uniform timeline and guidelines for the application process. But local officials see it as a means of removing them from the equation. Des Moines City Attorney Jeff Lester said the bill leaves out key components that actively involve local governments.
The bill does not require cellular companies to provide company and business plan information to local governments when applying for a new cell tower site. If a municipal authority denies a request and a cellular company takes the case to federal court, local authorities wouldn't have the evidence necessary to justify their denial. Lester said that under federal law, company information serves as evidence in these appeals. Without it there is no basis for denial, he said, and the ruling would be in favor of the cellular company. Another provision would allow cellular companies to attach antennae or other devices to an existing structure, such as a utility pole or water tower. Local governments wouldn't be involved yet would have to field complaints if the structure then rises above federal height limitations, or if residents dislike the aesthetics of the attached device.
Skip Moore, a Des Moines City Council member, said these aspects of the bill would, in effect, nullify local officials' control in such matters. Cellular companies, including AT&T, have been involved in discussions on the bill, but an AT&T official didn't respond to a message seeking information. Sodders said cellular companies seek regulation because the time frame for applications varies greatly across the state, as do the fees incurred as a result. He said the House plan is overreaching in that it goes beyond these concerns and eliminates local input.
As the Senate moves forward with its version of the bill, Sodders said he plans to address issues raised by cellular companies while still maintaining local control over cell tower sites. Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, who spearheaded the effort in the House, said that determining where towers can or cannot go is a difficult task but that it's not his intent to weaken anyone's say in their placement. "I do not want to take away the authority of local officials in terms of cell tower siting," he said. "I don't think anyone's goal is to take that away." Cownie said he's willing to reconsider changes to the bill, and is "wide open" to finding consensus on the matter.
Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said he understands the arguments on both sides. He said the House and Senate, cellular companies and local officials must find common ground. "The real angst there is that without local control on these towers, these things can be built right in your neighborhood," he said. "Nobody wants to come home and see that. Finding that balance is going to be key." Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Branstad, said in a statement that the governor is supportive of the regulation of rules, timelines and definitions when it comes to cell tower siting. He did not comment specifically about the provision in the House version that could limit local authority.
Branstad's initiative is meant to increase and improve broadband and Internet access across Iowa by establishing incentives for service providers, such as property and income tax exemptions. The proposed legislation charges Iowa's chief information officer with coordinating broadband efforts and allows certain education funds to be used for technology infrastructure upgrades in schools. It also allots $2 million to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics internships. Subcommittees in both chambers plan to meet this week to discuss the legislation. Associated Press
Yahoo Inc. is raising its ambitions in online video, with plans to acquire the kind of original programming that typically winds up on high-end cable-TV networks and streaming services like Netflix, people briefed on the company's plans said. The company is close to ordering four Web series, these people said. And unlike in years past, Yahoo isn't looking for short-form Web originals, but rather 10-episode, half-hour comedies with per-episode budgets ranging from $700,000 to a few million dollars, the people said. The projects being considered would be led by writers or directors with experience in television. "They want to blow it out big time," said one of the people briefed about the plans.
Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer is hoping to show off TV-caliber content to advertisers on April 28 when Yahoo holds its "NewFront"?event that is Internet companies' answer to the so-called upfront ad-sales presentations made by TV networks each spring. Yahoo declined to comment. The company is competing in a costly and crowded market for top-notch original TV series. Besides a broad array of cable outlets vying for those shows, new entrants like Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Hulu LLC also have entered the fray. "They're looking at the same type of shows that Netflix and Amazon are eyeing," said a person familiar with the situation.
The TV landscape has fragmented over the past several years as consumer habits have changed and new online distribution models have emerged. Plenty of Americans still watch TV: 283 million each month, according to Nielsen. But rather than sitting in front of a TV set to see a show as it airs, many more viewers are watching when they choose, through apps and on-demand services from cable companies, and subscription online services like Netflix and Hulu. Users now binge on entire seasons of programming if they choose. Some users are cutting their pay-TV subscriptions and relying solely on online services. Having original programming of their own to showcase-Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" or Amazon's "Alpha House," for example-is helping online services attract subscribers.
Yahoo is looking to capitalize on these changes. But it will face its own unique challenges, besides the glut of quality TV offerings. Most Yahoo visitors stream video content via desktop personal computers and mobile devices, rather than TV. Yet TV sets are probably where these new series will most resonate. Ms. Mayer has made online video a centerpiece of her strategy to turn around Yahoo. Yet nearly two years into her tenure as CEO at the Internet portal, Ms. Mayer has yet to show any meaningful progress in an online-advertising market dominated by Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. In January, Yahoo said its revenue fell 1.7% from a year earlier in the fourth quarter, minus commissions paid to partners for Web traffic, the company's fourth straight quarter without growth.
By offering more high-quality video programming, including originals as well as old episodes of shows like "Saturday Night Live,"? Ms. Mayer is aiming to get users to spend more time on the site watching high-price video ads. Yahoo is also trying to step up competition with Google's YouTube, which is by far the largest video site, with 12.6 billion video views in January, according to comScore. Yahoo is the fifth-largest, with 384 million. A breakout Web series would help Yahoo improve its perception among advertisers. And it could even persuade some marketers to shift a portion of their ad budgets that would typically go to TV.
Yahoo hasn't yet sealed any new original programming deals and it isn't clear whether Ms. Mayer will have them in place in time for the April 28 event in New York. One issue for the company is whether it could earn enough money from advertising alone to support the shows. If Yahoo is able to acquire ownership of the content, it could supplement its revenue by licensing the shows in international markets and cutting syndication deals. Traditional TV studios typically bank on those sources of revenue to make a profit.
Yahoo is working on other fronts to boost its media offerings. The company is in preliminary talks to acquire online video service News Distribution Network Inc. in a deal that could be valued at close to $300 million, The Wall Street Journal reported last month. Yahoo also hired TV news journalist Katie Couric and former New York Times technology columnist David Pogue last year. Yahoo has produced original video series in the past, including Morgan Spurlock's "Failure Club" reality show as well as "Electric City," an animated series created by and starring Tom Hanks that was the company's first foray into scripted programming when it launched in 2012. Both of those shows have ended production. Now Ms. Mayer wants to spend more and work with more famous directors and stars to produce something that has so far eluded the company: a hit online show with viral appeal.
The people briefed on Yahoo's plans say Ms. Mayer and her chief marketing officer, Kathy Savitt, have reviewed more than 100 projects over the past few months, looking for series that are ready to launch and don't require a lot of development. Ms. Savitt, a marketing veteran, recently expanded her remit to include oversight of news and video after the departures of Mickie Rosen, who ran media, Erin McPherson, who led video, and Henrique de Castro, the former operating chief who served as one of Yahoo's top liaisons to advertisers. Wall Street Journal
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