Disenfranchisement and the Pirate Franchise

Expanded from the 11-21-2004 Daily Sparks Tribune
11-26-2004 Comstock Chronicle

Just when you think your wallet couldn't take any more stress comes the latest depredation by Charter Communications. On Nov. 8, the Federal Communications Commission published a filing whereby Charter asks to be relieved of the last vestige of regulation in Sparks, Reno, Carson, Washoe and Clark counties.


Carson City will appeal cable company's request

   CHARTER EXEC: Company seeks fair playing field, not hike in cable bills

   The above presents Charter in full corporate defensive mode, almost a point-by-point rebuttal of the 11-21 Barbwire herein. For instance, this is the first time Charter has mentioned "skinny basic" in almost two years. The coverage by Appeal reporters Robyn Moormeister and Becky Bosshart is exemplary journalism.

   Update 11-30-2004: Download the opposition brief.
(Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader which you may obtain free at

   Update 12-1: Governments file objections

   Update 12-5: Objections may be deficient


First and foremost, don't think you're beating the system if you have a satellite dish. Charter sets benchmark pricing which the rest of the market follows and Charter's rates are already those of a deregulated monopoly. So how can it get worse? Let me count the ways.

Technically, they are applying for deregulation of the basic tier, the lowest cost, fewest-channels option. But the effects on all ratepayers will be far reaching.

Uniform pricing will become a thing of the past. Charter will be able to implement the equivalent of Sierra Pacific Power charging Sparks customers less for natural gas than customers in southeast Reno.

Charter will be free to sell below cost, a variant of what ARCO does — lowball the price in a certain zone of town to drive out an independent retailer. (See the oilogopoly archive at

Charter will be able to eliminate senior discounts and any potential for buy-through availability, which is ala carte pricing. (In early 2003, Charter told the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which I chair, that they were in the process of implementing a "skinny basic" service, basically a lifeline rate. Once such a structure is in place, they can offer "buy-through," e.g., a customer who qualifies can purchase skinny basic and HBO only. It never happened. The Bush FCC squashed an ala carte proposal last week.)

Communities have regretted failure to object. Some residents of Citrus County, Florida, were outraged when they found their cable operator charging one neighborhood less for the same service. The FCC told them they should have objected when they had the chance.

This brings up a longstanding public utility consumer complaint: unfair subsidy of one group of ratepayers by another.

This maneuver, combined with the industry trend to define everything as deregulated high-speed broadband Internet and thus exempt from any regulation or franchise, portends great danger for ratepayers. Charter's Long Beach, Calif., system is a model for facilitating such redefinition. (See the Barbwire of last August 1.)

Washoe, Carson and Clark County officials must respond to protect their citizens. Expert review is necessary. Reno city staff is reviewing the thick proposal. Councilman Dave Aiazzi informs me that Reno will hire a consultant. County Commissioner Pete Sferrazza has asked county manager Katy Singlaub to agendize the issue. Time is short. All the municipalities can pool their efforts and share the cost, but they have only until roughly Nov. 28 to file objections.

Charter has a low threshold to achieve. They only need to show that some competition is generally available and has reached 15 percent market penetration. Charter today commands about six of every 10 TV sets in this region, but thanks to lax federal laws and regulations, can assert that they are no longer a monopoly. Close enough for government work.

I have not heard from Sparks, Carson City or Gomorrah South, but I'll call them. Ratepayers, whether cable or satellite, should contact their respective representatives. Please monitor for updates.

ONE MORE HORROR STORY. This memo was posted on a national cable advocates' website by Joe Hreha, Deputy Director of the Community Services Department of the City of Simi Valley, California.

"There wasn't much to fight here in Simi Valley. We knew that we had significant (satellite) penetration, so much so that we came in at over 22%. We did not fight it and the FCC researched and concurred with Adelphia's 22% estimate and we were no longer regulating any basic rates, equipment, and installation charges. 

"We continuously try to communicate to our residents that we are out of the business; however, it is a long and difficult public
education/outreach process. 

"When we used to regulate rates, we averaged one rate increase per calendar year and it was five years since we experienced a basic-only rate increase. Since the effective competition decision, we have averaged two rate increases per calendar year and the basic rate was also increased. In one 12-month period, our digital tier, premium channels and basic rate were all increased at separate times during that 12-month period," Hreha stated.

We've been warned.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Tribune staff for scooping the state on last week's legal action challenging the results of the election. Rick Davis of Minden filed a demand in Washoe District Court that all disenfranchised voters be allowed to vote. It won’t change the election outcome, but it can spur cleanup of a very flawed registration, voting and counting system which needs reform at all levels. Anyone deprived of his or her right to vote may contact me and I'll put them together with the right people to assist Mr. Davis. Watch BallotBoxing.US for ongoing updates.

AIR WAR ALERT. I'll pontificate from the pundit gallery of Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4. Also on the program will be Lorne Malkiewich, head of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau; university regent and movie critic Howard Rosenberg; Washoe D.A. Dick Gammick and former Assemblyman Jason Geddes, R-Reno. The show reruns at 9:28 p.m. on low-priced, consumer friendly Charter cable channel 12 in Washoe-Carson-Douglas. Audio will re-air Sunday, Nov. 28, at 9:00 a.m. on KKKOH-780am.

Be well.
Raise hell.


Nevada GOP pressed to suppress voting till the polls closed

Reforms demanded

Judge's Ruling May Cause A Law Suit
By James Steiner
KOLO TV-8, 11-7-2004
"Both the Washoe County district attorney's office and the Secretary of State could join a lawsuit on Monday, November 8, against a judge, who allowed people to vote on election day by just bringing in their voter registration receipts..."
(No longer online. Typical TV — nothing lasts more than a week.)
For ongoing coverage, go to BallotBoxing.US

Washoe judge says citizens may vote with registration receipt, even if name is not on voting rolls

Democratic couple allowed to vote

State Supreme Court declines to get involved

Related article: If all votes were counted, Kerry won
by investigative reporter Greg Palast

NEWELECTION UPDATES @ BallotBoxing.US | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors
| BallotBoxing.US
Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive


Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 36-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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