TV showdown at city hall
Expanded from the Sunday, 4-4-2004, Daily
Sparks, Nev., Tribune
An edited version appeared in the 4-8-2004 Comstock Chronicle
This Wednesday, the Reno City Council may approve a new 15-year franchise with Charter Communications. Don't let them. There is no good reason to move so rapidly on a recently published agreement with which the citizens committee I chair has found so many flaws. Worse, Washoe County, Carson City and soon Sparks will be negotiating new cable deals and looking to Reno's as the model. Heaven forbid.
After more than two weeks of living with and holding hearings on the new franchise draft, I have concluded that it is indefensible and irredeemable in its present form.
Worse, the intention of the city staff as instructed by the city council is now quite clear: all that matters is getting quick cash from Charter. That money comes from you, so you should be quite concerned.
As I've often noted, don't feel smug if you don't subscribe to cable. You have by no means beaten the system. The bloviated rates charged by cable set the area standard for alternative service 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. 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.
Reno City Councilman David Aiazzi's statement to the Reno Gazette-Journal last week accurately reflected the attitude of city staff: "I'd like to sign something less than 15 years," he said, "but we got more money to sign 15 years."
The city thus demonstrates an institutional conflict of interest. On the one hand, the council and staff are supposed to represent the citizenry. But they cannot resist the siren song of a goodly chunk of indirect taxation. That's why so many governments across the land love the latest craze in "voluntary taxation" called casino gambling.
Reno's financial position is currently rosy if you believe the steady stream of glowing statements from city p.r. staff.
So why give Charter 15 years of open-ended rape and pillage when it's not necessary?
The city wants to continue extracting the federally allowed maximum franchise fee from Charter, five percent of gross TV revenues. That money, again, comes from you. But the city doesn't necessarily need it. The council can give its own citizens a break by not requiring so much. By keeping the franchise length to eight years as my citizens committee has recommended, they will be able to make corrections in the medium term if necessary.
The Reno Gazette-Journal's Internet opinion vote reported in its March 31 edition showed 288 votes against and only 29 in favor of giving Charter 15 years (91% vs. 9%). In last Saturday's RGJ, 51 percent of web voters said they consider Charter service "poor."
Reno's draft franchise deal is so flawed that it must be sent back to the drawing board starting with the city's financial advisory panel.  Here are some of the major holes:
In 1980, future Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, and I went before the Sparks City Council. We argued for shortening the length of Sierra Pacific's new franchise from 50 to 25 years and holding their feet to the fire on the issues of the day.
Councilman Bernie Gulla stopped the debate short: "All that matters is getting the franchise fee. The rest is the Public Service Commission's job."
This is the mindset of Reno City Hall today, but local ratepayers have no utility commission to fall back on, and no consumer advocate only my outgunned and powerless citizens committee. (Which is more than Sparks has. Is anybody on Prater Way listening?)
Our only ally is the power of public opinion. Start contacting the decisionmakers and ask them to stop this needless rush to judgment.
The council meeting will be cablecast live on SNCAT/Charter Cable Channel 13 in Reno-Sparks with
reruns to follow.
Be well. Raise hell.
 3-30-2004 On NBC KRNV TV-4's Nevada Newsmakers, in response to a question from host Sam Shad, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell essentially endorsed sending the franchise draft to the city's financial advisory board for review. When Mr. Shad asked the mayor if the franchise draft would be sent to the FAB as our panel recommended, Mr. Cashell responded "it probably will, yes."
UPDATE 4-7-2004 Yes apparently meant no. Please read Cashell does Eddy Arnold.
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 City Council April 7 meeting packet documents
Adobe Acrobat Reader documents
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
No cable TV complaints allowed until 2019
City gives the store away
Daily Sparks Tribune 3-21-2004
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
City of Reno Staff Report on Draft Cable Franchise
Bring your salt shaker
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
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
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Watch your language if you call, John Ashcroft might be listening
Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano
Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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