Abusing the Franchise by Democrats & Cable TV fatcats


Expanded from the 9-8-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

I need your help. This Tuesday, the Reno City Council will get a staff report on the feasibility of establishing a consumer advisory panel on cable television services. Charter Communications' franchise is up for a 15-year renewal.

When I requested that the council address this issue, it sparked a lot of ideas. Councilman David Rigdon wanted to know about establishing such a citizens committee to review all charters granted by the city, including power, gas, water and telephone. I advised the council that this body could start with a narrow focus on the matter at hand and expand from there.

I added that it's been my experience both on the founding board of Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT Cable), and in Sierra Pacific Power franchise renewal proceedings all over northern Nevada, that those charged with reviewing such activities quickly become expert in the process. That knowledge can then be applied elsewhere. Today, Charter Cable. Tomorrow, SPP.

Unlike SPP, which is only partially deregulated (the 2001 legislature re-regulated because of the California Enron scandals, then promptly re-deregulated under pressure from the gambling industry), Charter acts as a deregulated monopoly. They have a license to rape and pillage your pocketbook. I don't have room to list all the consumer complaints I've received in just the past two weeks since I first raised the issue here.

Please let the council know you want them to act. And don't hesitate just because you don't live within the Reno city limits. Charter's cable service covers the region and they are not perceived as nice people by either governments or consumers.

They arrogantly refused to answer some of my questions at the ONLY public comment scheduled in this process. I hope to facilitate more if this committee is established. Several citizens have already volunteered to serve.

Please attend, call, mail, fax or any combination thereof. I don't have a time certain for Tuesday. The agenda item is way down the list. Watch for more information.

The most expeditious method of communicating with the council is via e-mail or phone. Here are the pertinent addresses and numbers: (Dave Aiazzi), (775) 334-2016 (David Rigdon), 334-2017 (Sherrie Doyle), 334-2015 (Pierre Hascheff), 334-2014 (Hizzoner), 334-2001 (Jessica Sferrazza), 334-2012 (Toni Harsh), 334-2011

Fax: (775) 334-2097

U.S. Mail: P.O. Box 1900
Reno NV 89505

Please let the council know that establishing a citizens' oversight panel will serve the long-term public interest. The city has a wide range of advisory bodies. Cable TV oversight was among them in the 1980s and into the early 1990s.

Since President Clinton signed the disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996, cable TV rates across the nation have skyrocketed at about three times the rate of inflation. The law, which was sold as a way to foster competition, actually created deregulated monopolies.

Imagine if Sierra Pacific Power had no Public Utilities Commission and no consumer advocate to review and fight its rate hikes. The corporation could charge whatever it pleases. That's exactly what we face with Charter Cable — no meaningful competition and rate hikes at whim.

The 1996 law severely limited what regulation could be enforced on the local level. Franchise renewal presents a very rare opportunity to impact the long term future.

Show up Tuesday if you can. View the proceedings on SNCAT 13 as they occur, or on rebroadcasts at 10:00 a.m. Thursday and next Sunday. Tell people about what's happening.

A large majority of Reno households are cable subscribers and Charter is expanding into high-speed Internet service. If your personal and professional activity is increasingly web-based, as are mine, cable Internet access is very attractive. However, I find plain scary the specter of web outages occurring as often as cable TV goes down — and Charter only credits you for an outage if it's 24 hours or more. Not even Sierra Pacific's pirates pillage to that degree.

This opportunity will not come around for another 15 years. Other municipalities in the region will be looking at franchise renewal in the not too distant future. (Carson City is now in the process of renewing SPP's franchise.) What we do in Reno to establish an oversight board can thus benefit the region. The city's contract consultant told an August 13 gathering that consumer groups are quite common around the country. We can tap into that network and get up and running very quickly.

Please help me work on this. Television, alas, will become nothing if not more important in our daily lives.

We've bought the beast. So let's ride it hard.

THIS JUST IN from former Tribune columnist Susan Severt. In a letter to Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, she reacts to State Democratic Chairman Terry Care's statement (printed on the front page of the Tribune last week), that the party will not support Neal, winner of Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary. Sen. Care, D-Las Vegas, justified the statement because Neal wants to raise taxes on the state's largest, most profitable casinos.

"I am ashamed that my own party has embarrassed me with their arrogant words against, you sir, the candidate I VOTED for in the Democratic primary. I would like to send you the little bit of money that I put aside quarterly for the Nevada Democratic Party, since it is obvious that they have been influenced by those who have made Nevada a mess.

"Please Senator, stick with your guns and even though we don't agree on everything, here is one Northern Nevada vote for you! Please send me a donation form, it will not be alot of $$$, but it belongs to the one that I want to represent my interests, and obviously that is no longer the Nevada Democratic Party."

I miss having her around here.

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© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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