No cable TV complaints allowed until 2019

Expanded from the Sunday, 3-21-2004, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
3-25-2004 Comstock Chronicle

After a 19-year drought, the UNR Wolf Pack basketball team's return to the NCAA tournament has met with phenomenal success as those fine young men upset the nation's number two team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

What if you knew for a fact that they would not get another shot until 2019? Would you do something about it if you could? You'd certainly want them to make the most of their current opportunity over the next two weeks.

Two weeks is exactly the amount of time that northwestern Nevada cable TV consumers have to influence their collective future. Worse, you've got to depend on that bastion of governmental efficiency, the City of Reno, to carry the ball for you.

Can you hear me now?

Smug satellite dish or scrambled antenna (e.g., Quadravision) users shouldn't get huffy and stop reading. You have by no means beaten the system. The bloviated rates charged by cable set the area standard for alternative prices, as they will for high-speed Internet providers who are getting into the program distribution business.

Charter enjoys the market dominance of a government granted, deregulated monopoly with far more than 50 percent of local household penetration. When Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Al Gore pushed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, they falsely promised us plummeting prices via instant competition. Instead, bills have skyrocketed, choices have shrunk, packages are based on programming blackmail and service has been relegated to call centers in Timbuktu or somesuch backwater.

Until true competition evolves, every television consumer will continue to pay inflated prices for much more than just television. Over-the-air stations now have to negotiate deals in order to compensate cable companies for broadcasting their signals, so every business advertising on local TV pays part of that cost in its advertising bills. If you buy anything from a TV advertiser, the depredations of the cable bandidos affect you.

Can you hear me now? Good, 'cause it gets even better.

Carson City, Reno and Washoe County have all let their cable franchises lapse. Washoe and Carson have wisely taken advantage of contract provisions which allow Charter to operate on a month-to-month basis until a new deal is cut. The Reno City Council, against the advice of its Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which I chair, has granted Charter two extensions for no concessions.

We took that as evidence of weak negotiation and asked that a member of our committee be allowed to at least observe the closed bargaining sessions. At least we'd have a member who could brief us before our last-minute review of the deal. No dice.

Reno's most experienced city staffer refused to participate in negotiations based on the fuzzy reasoning that since he will administer the new franchise, he should not be involved in forming it. Who knows the deal better than the negotiator? Go figure.

The results show. Late last week, city staff finally unveiled its draft of a new franchise. Against the advice in Dr. Bob Sepe's $54,000 taxpayer-funded study, the kids recommend giving Charter a blank check to 2019. Dr. Sepe recommended that Charter get a new franchise of only five to eight years as a way to keep up the heat on them to clean up their act.

One of the new wrinkles touted in the draft is expansion of cable access from three to five channels. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

More is actually less.

Sparks-Reno public, governmental and educational access stations currently appear on three analog channels. Reno's new agreement will allow two analog and three digital channels. That's actually less. Charter has smoked the city.

The valuable resource is bandwidth, not channels. One analog channel is equivalent to 12 digital channels. Sparks and Reno now use three analog channels. Sepe recommended getting five new analog channels in addition to the existing three.

If a city retains the right for the length of the franchise to use all the bandwidth of each current analog channel, it will have 12 channels to use in the future for each single analog channel it currently controls. Charter stated in one of our meetings that each channel is worth at least a million dollars per year to the company.

Going from three analog to two analog and three digital means Reno wants to give back the bandwidth equivalent of nine channels, or $9 million per year to Charter for 15 years.

Is that bad negotiating? Is that ignoring the doctor? Are the Reno council and its minions properly representing the public? The facts speak for themselves.

You will find the franchise agreement and supporting documents linked to the web version of this column. You can also get copies by calling the community relations office at Reno City Hall at (775) 321-8318 or e-mailing RenoDirect.

The city originally promised that Dr. Sepe would attend a live town hall meeting to answer questions. Last Friday, I was informed that "the council" didn't want to pay his expense and cancelled his attendance.

Other governments will look at Reno's franchise as a guide in their negotiations. Sparks has so far shown little interest in coordinating efforts with other municipalities, as the Rail City franchise does not expire for more than a year. I've said it many times and I'll say it again: form a cable team NOW or face instant replay of the above.

My committee will perform a preliminary review this Thursday evening, March 25, at 6:30 p.m. at Reno City Hall. It will be cablecast live in Sparks-Reno on SNCAT-13, then repeated on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Monday, March 29, at 6:00 p.m. The town hall with live call-ins will happen on, appropriately, April Fools Day at 6:30 p.m., same station. Watch for rerun times and news bulletins.

Please take the time to review the documents and tune in, If you know any experts, put them to work. Contact your friends. Send me your questions and comments. My committee is comprised of six bright people and one stubborn chairman, but we are not experts and won't have Dr. Sepe to help us. You can think up questions we might miss.

How important is this? My panel's senior citizen representative put it best last year: "Charter Communications rations democracy according to who can afford to pay the most," Barbara Stone wisely stated

Be well. Raise hell.


Mayor Bob Cashell does Eddy Arnold
Daily Sparks Tribune 4-11-2004, Comstock Chronicle 4-15-2004

Reno City Council sentences ratepayers
to 15 more years of Charter rape and pillage

despite 3 town hall meetings, 3 Gazette-Journal Internet votes,
KOLO TV-8's web sampling,
letters to the editor, massive e-mails,
paper letters and phone calls to councilmembers.

Reno Gazette-Journal 4-8-2004

City should reject cable deal
Reno City Council can cut cable TV rates
Reno Gazette-Journal Op-Ed 4-7-2004

Citizens panel urges denial of 15-year cable franchise
Reno Gazette-Journal 4-2-2004

Reno Gazette-Journal ill-informed editorial
"City getting best of Charter deal"
Reno Gazette-Journal 4-2-2004

Ratepayers beware: The city and Charter like this deal
Beware of pigs wearing lipstick
Reno Gazette-Journal 3-30-2004

Getting beat up at Reno City Hall
CONSUMER TRIANGLE: Ratepayers must fight the company,
the council and the city staff

Daily Sparks Tribune 3-28-2004

Barbano's Conspicuously Unofficial Cable Consumer Page
Everything about how we got to where we are today

Cable Industry Economics
Everything your friendly local cable provider doesn't want you to know

The City of Reno's Official Cable Compliance Committee Page

City of Reno Cable Links and Info

Draft Cable Franchise Agreement as a .pdf download

Draft Cable Franchise Agreement in .html

City of Reno Staff Report on Draft Cable Franchise
Bring your salt shaker

Draft Changes to Master Cable Ordinance as a .pdf download

Draft Changes to Master Cable Ordinance in .html

Dr. Robert Sepe's advice: City takes some, leaves some
(and leaves some of us aghast!)
.pdf Adobe Acrobat Reader download
.html web browser viewable version

You may also get copies of the above documents by calling the community relations office
at Reno City Hall at (775) 321-8318; fax 334-3124; or e-mail RenoDirect.

At the mercy of cable monopolies
Clearly, deregulation has failed
San Diego Union-Tribune 3-15-2004

Consumer Reports
The Consumers Union Video & Cable information index

Charter Cable's Checking Account Isn't Choosy
What's a mere $2,300 between friends?
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-22-2004

National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Watch your language if you call, John Ashcroft might be listening | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors
| BallotBoxing.US
Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive


Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and

Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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