Tales of pigs, perversions and pipelines
Expanded from the 5-20-2007 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 5-28-2007 and 6-24-2007

AL GORE, CALL YOUR OFFICE. Perversion may be condemned in more civilized places, but in Nevada, it’s a living. After Cabela's and the Commie Red casino at Sparks Marina, I thought there just couldn't be any more ways for itinerant corporate welfare queens to loot the public treasury. Wrong.

Turns out that a 2005 bill passed Nevada style – last minute with little review – has come back to bite the public purse to the tune of almost a billion dollars.

A study presented to lawmakers last Friday said that a green building tax incentive could cost $974.3 million. There would be nothing wrong with that if state and local governments were both fiscally healthy and responsible. But neither is true.

Growth stopped paying for growth about 10 years ago and the wheels are coming off. Tax incentives to benefit the environment are a good idea, but not if the taxes lost cripple an already staggering body politick.

The cable monopoly game

    Like North Carolina (see "Jim Crow Cable," below, left), northern Nevada for years suffered tacit price fixing (as BigOil does today) when we had two cable companies which refused to compete with each other. Charter's predecessors, TCI and Continental, would scrupulously avoid competing for new customers, each preferring to let the other pick up new housing developments unchallenged.

    This unspoken agreement on how to divvy up new territory facilitated high price levels for both companies. When TCI and Charter were doing this about 15 or 20 years ago, the few places in the U.S. with actual cable competition saw prices drop by as much as 90 percent.

     Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Newt Gingrich promised that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would send cable rates plummeting due to new competition. The reverse happened and seems to be happening again in North Carolina after passage of legislation similar to that now before the Nevada senate.

Much, much more

PAPER OR PLASTIC? All of this underscores how corporations rule our daily lives, limiting our choices from the grocery store shelf to the ballot box.

Last Friday, a host of bills were killed down at the ledge. Casino boss Steve Wynn gave orders to Sens. Bill Raggio and Randolph Townsend, both R-Reno, and Assembly Bill 248, a prohibition on Wynn's theft of tips from his casino dealers, died without a hearing in Townsend's Republican-controlled committee.

The committee's corporate cronies just moved two very questionable communications bills. Assembly Bill 518 would deregulate telephone and cable. (Think Enron.) AB 526 has been sold as a way to streamline franchising but moves regulation to the secretary of state who has no staff, budget or enforcement authority. Ratepayers in Florida and North Carolina have been telling horror stories which have apparently not made it to Carson City.

Here's a preview of coming attractions.

JIM CROW CABLE. How's deregulation working in the land of Jesse Helms?

"The North Carolina General Assembly passed the same legislation (now before Nevada's legislature) last year," a national expert wrote me.

"We've had 70 state franchises filed – all by incumbent cable monopolies, none by new competitors," the expert added.

"AT&T has now announced it's not going to provide video any time soon in NC. Cable rates have, of course, gone up. The only thing that has gone down (if that were possible) is the quality of customer service.

"A rural county in the east felt the sting of this great new law. Time-Warner Cable reduced its service area, pulling out of low-density areas and any that looked like it might brush up against another cable operator's service. (A way to avoid price competition. Sparks-Reno suffered the same price fixing for years. See the little known story at right.)

"Our sec'y of state is the new franchising authority. The office said they are going to do NO oversight. 'Not our job.'

"Discrimination in services due to race is outright permitted in the first year." [MORE]


DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN. In 2004, I printed a story which made minor national waves. The postal service mistakenly delivered a Sparks woman's mortage payment to Charter Communications, which cashed a check not payable to Charter, credited the woman's account and refused to return the money.

This just in: "Two weeks ago I checked my bank statement online and found a debit charge from Charter Cable for $142. I pay my cable bill by auto-pay, but the cable charge (which is much less) had already been debited, so I called Charter.

"Of course customer support is now in India, which is always a joy. The first guy, I can't understand a word he is saying so I call back. The next rep speaks some English, so I explain the situation and he tells me that they never debited my account and it is a bank error. I call my bank, they tell me that is absurd, that they can't just generate a debit charge on their own from Charter...so, I call Charter back, no less than six times in a week. Of course they don't make any record of the incident so each time I call I have to go through the whole story again. Each rep tells me that it is not their problem, call the bank — so I ask for a supervisor. It seems that 'somehow' when you ask for a supervisor you are mysteriously disconnected. So I call and I call and I call...each time with the same stupid answer.

"I call my bank again and ask them to do a chargeback. They 'sort of' agree but want me to send them a signed letter with all the details. I do so, foolishly assuming that this is going to be taken care of. I leave for a business trip and on my way to the airport I stop to use my debit card which the ATM 'eats.' I get a message that my card was retained due to 'unauthorized use'. I call the bank, they said they stopped the ATM card so that Charter couldn't create any more debits. (Gee thanks for telling me you were going to do that.)

"So, I start calling Charter again, this time with a person from my bank on a conference call. I finally get through to a supervisor who tells me to go to the local office and it will be taken care of. So, off I drive to the other end of town, I wait patiently in line and when I finally get waited on, the lady tells me that Charter has no record of the transaction, that it must be the bank's fault. I ask for a supervisor and the lady disappears for a full 10 minutes, then returns to tell me that her supervisor said that I need my bank to mail them my checking account number and routing number. I said 'Oh my god, that information is right here on one of my checks - what is wrong with you people?' She said 'sorry, we need that information directly from the bank in order to help you.'

I left the Charter office, now out $142.82 and with no visa card. Talk about getting screwed, geez.

"Anyway, keep fighting for us, we need you."

I told the lady to complain to Reno City Hall and see if their vaunted consumer response program can do any good.

Stay tuned.

Be well. Raise hell.


      BARBWIRE: Labor Day '94: People vs. corporate con job, 9-4-94
Chilling forecasts from Alex Carey

Barbwire cable war room

Nevada lawmakers respond to this 5-20 column

AT&T CEO sloughs off question on oligopoly
BARBWIRE/Sparks Tribune 4-8-2007

Embarq exec promises brave new world of competition
as anti-competitive bills steamroll thru Nevada legislature

Embarq serves Gomorrah South and was formerly known as Sprint and Centel
Las Vegas Review-Journal 5-18-2007

Legislative attempt at consolidation of power
by phone and cable companies

Including a 10-year timeline of anti-consumer legislation
Daily Sparks Tribune 4-1-2007, 4-8-2007, UPDATED 5-10, 5-20, 5-28-2007

The North Carolina attorney general has said the language in the recently passed law makes discrimination suits practically impossible to win.
See General Assembly of North Carolina, Session 2005
Session Law 2006-151, House Bill 2047
Section 66-356(1). [Service Standards and Requirements]
Copies of the new Jim Crow law available upon request.

...and more ammo

Nevada: Right to Work for Less
Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it

Barbwire Nevada Corporate Welfare Archive
Learn about the goodies the gambling industry gets at the public trough

      Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive
I've been telling you so for more than 10 freakin' years

NAOMI WOLF: Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps
There are some things common to every state that's made the transition to fascism. Author Naomi Wolf argues that all of them are present in America today.
Alternet 5-20-2007

Government contacts

Nevada Legislature
State of Nevada
Secretary of State

Clark County
City of Las Vegas
Reno City Council
Sparks City Council
Washoe County Commission
Washoe Registrar of Voters


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Copyright © 1982-2007 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 38-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413/AFL-CIO. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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