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Charter cable channels 16 and 216 in Reno-Sparks-Washoe
evil empire eats its appetite
Expanded from the 8-24-2008 Daily Sparks Tribune
Updated 8-25-2008, 8-28-2008
Charter Communications, the regional subscription TV monopoly, announced that it was going to move public, educational and government (PEG) access channels to the expensive, low viewership digital tier as of this Tuesday.
You stopped them.
Herewith, a collection of kudos and brickbats directed toward those who helped the little people prevail and those who sat shiva wailing "woe is us."
What's the old cliché? Oh, yeah, the only way evil men can prevail is if good men do nothing.
Updated math behind the move
Charter Communications plans to illegally move four channels of analog to the digital tier.
One channel of analog bandwidth accommodates two to 10 channels of digital programming, depending on the complexity of the streams. High-definition movies eat up a lot of bandwidth.
A Charter statement quoted on TV-4's Aug. 4, 2008, 11:00 p.m. newscast said that Charter is doing this to "free up more bandwidth for high definition channels."
Charter thus gains bandwidth for between 8 and 40 digital channels by banishing community TV to the digital tier, a net gain of 4 and as many as 36, depending on content.
Charter VP Marsha Berkbigler, in her first speech to the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee in Dec. 2002, said each additional channel is worth $1 million a year to Charter and that's at 2002 prices.
So Charter stands to make between $4 million and $36 million by doing this, unadjusted for inflation.
Sparks, Washoe, Carson and Douglas consumers urged to contact their local governments to join the fight against Charter
ReSurge.TV 8-25-2008, Updated 8-28-2008
Bandwidth bandidos admit their greed
Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune / 8-17-2008
Sue the bastards
Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune / 8-10-2008
Deregulation means never having to say you're sorry
Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune / 8-3-2008
Barbwire.TV: 15-year overnight success
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-10-2008
The Barbwire's Greatest Hits
Highlights from radio days
First, the good guys
Sparks City Councilman John Mayer, the dean of all local officials, was out front as usual. His expressions of concern at a council meeting paved the way for my quickly obtaining experienced legal counsel.
Attorney Neil Grad heard Mayer's words and was thus up to speed on the issue when I called. He immediately said yes, taking precious time away from his campaign for Sparks city attorney. Grad is former counsel to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and was the City of Sparks' legal advisor during Charter Communications franchise renewal several years ago.
World class paralegal Tom Hudson volunteered his very valuable expertise in providing Mr. Grad and me with sparkling research on the extremely complicated legal issues involved.
Not knowing what the City of Reno might do in their proposed filing, we had to prepare buckshot rather than bullets. Mr. Hudson proved a very good armorer.
We will keep our powder dry and research ongoing, as Charter has only committed to a 90-day cooling off period.
Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, returned my call from wherever he was vacationing. He immediately contacted Charter's vice-president in charge of looking out the window and said "fix this."
Townsend also contacted Cox Communications, the cable provider in Gomorrah South, to ascertain that they had no such nefarious intentions. Turns out that the Las Vegas City Council had already reacted to this northern brouhaha and duly expressed concerns to Cox, which assured the LV officials that their government channels would not be affected. (Only Boulder City enjoys full PEG access. Perhaps that will change one day soon if southern Nevada governments listen to their people.)
Assemblymembers Bernie Anderson and Debbie Smith, both D-Sparks, and David Bobzien and Sheila Leslie, both D-Reno, all reacted to their constituents and took action.
They delegated Bernie to attend last week's meeting of the Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) board of directors. He informed them that Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, had requested a bill draft to remedy flaws in the vague 2007 law which Charter is abusing out of pure greed. Mr. Anderson spent an hour on my TV show last Friday explaining the issues.
The pressure from Townsend combined with Oceguera's bill draft may have provided the final straws bending the crass corporate camel's back. Oceguera, a Reno native raised in Fallon and now North Las Vegas assistant fire chief, chairs the Assembly Commerce Committee which will hear any such legislation. Townsend chairs the senate committee with the same purview.
SNCAT producers showed up en masse at Reno City Hall to plead for the survival of their medium. SNCAT Executive Director Les Smith fired off several timely statements to the media, correcting Charter dissembling and disinformation.
The SNCAT staff maintained their normal cheerful business-as-usual attitude even in the face of the potential crippling of their enterprise.
Alone among the five affected municipalities, the City of Reno acted with a swiftness rare among governments. The mayor and council voted unanimously (with one abstention) to seek an immediate court order stopping Charter from assassinating the people's television stations.
The council convened an emergency meeting Friday afternoon to OK Charter's proposed moratorium and order city lawyers to back off. I agreed not to file on behalf of my viewers and members at ReSurge.TV. It's always better to keep matters out of court if there is any chance of doing so.
We will keep our powder dry and legal research ongoing. We will also continue to raise funds for legal expenses. This will not be a short or cheap fight. Comcast cable in Michigan was stopped with a court order in January and the case was heard by a federal judge just last Tuesday. Charter is looking at scoring $12 million a year or more if they complete the destruction of the access channels.
The financial support of the cable system's users combined with the expertise of Mssrs. Grad and Hudson allowed me to confidently proceed knowing I could back up everything I said.
Contributions may be easily made with a credit or debit card through the organization website, ReSurge.TV. Or you can mail a check to ReSurge.TV, P.O. Box 10034, Reno, NV 89510.
And finally, all due respect to veteran Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Susan Voyles, who did her usual polished and professional job.
Now for the bad guys
The Sparks City Council, the Carson City Board of Supervisors, the Washoe and Douglas County commissions, all of whose systems have apparently won reprieve through no effort of their own. The cash-strapped City of Sparks even paid for advertising touting Charter's channel change.
AND ESPECIALLY, the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial page. The huge RGJ Sunday editorial on Aug. 17 was a masterpiece of moral obtuseness and bad writing. Good editorial commentary is supposed to state the situation, recommend a solution and conclude with a call to action. The Reno paper made several glaring factual errors on its way to recommending that cable access programmers should seek other outlets, letting Charter destroy the current system.
But there are no alternatives other than to become one of several billion low-traffic websites. (YouTube allows all of five minutes, not a good venue for in-depth programming.) Many SNCAT viewers do not have computers.
A decade ago, under pressure from NPR, PBS and the commercial broadcast industry, Congress killed low power TV and radio licensing for community organizations. (Wolf Pack Radio at 1700-am is one of the few survivors.)
SNCAT is filling that glaring gap with the creation of KJIV and KJIV.org, which will soon broadcast over full-power 89.5 fm.
Les Smith is offering expanded blocks for cable-in-the-classroom at a time when Nevada education budgets are collapsing.
That's a positive call to action.
FYI: Sen. Townsend and Mr. Grad were onetime clients of mine in the 1980s before I began this column for the Tribune.
Be well. Raise hell.
Reno city council votes unanimously to sue Charter to keep community TV accessible
Resurge.TV will also file
FROM LES SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Sierra Nevada Community Access Television
Please send at least ten other people this notice and editorial.
MOVING COMMUNITY ACCESS CHANNELS A LOSS OF PUBLIC TRUST
Charter Communications is moving Reno 13, Sparks 15, public access 16 and Washoe County 17, will be moved to the digital tier and beyond the reach of most of their viewers.
Why should that be important to Charters subscribers or the rest of the people who dont subscribe to Charter Cable?
The simple answer is that these are your channels, given to you by federal law. Cable operators are required to provide public, education and government (PEG) channels as a way of making public service programming available on the cable system without having to create public-service programming themselves. These channels are part of the public trust. They are your "property," just like the national forest or monuments in Washington D.C.
Most cable operators, like Charter, dont share the sense of obligation to the community that their predecessors did. Cable operators have been railroading laws though state legislatures, relieving them of having to negotiate franchise agreements with the local communities. New statewide franchise laws still require cable operators to provide PEG channels. But, there is no guarantee of where on the cable spectrum the PEG channels will go.
The biggest downside to this move is for local government, community organizations and producers who count on easy and affordable access for their viewers. Federal law requires that these channels be easily accessible and available at the cheapest rate. Moving PEG channels up to the digital tier adds complexity and difficulty to watching these channels. And, the cost of the digital box is a huge jump in price over the basic cable rate.
There is a small, but important core of regular viewers who will be cut off from PEG channels, because they cant afford a 25% increase in their cable fees. Moving PEG channels also effectively puts them out of reach of other PEG viewers, who cruise the basic cable tier.
Imagine a small, downtown park, surrounded by banks, boutiques, condos and shops. Parents bring their children to play here, church groups socialize, government officials meet, community organizations hold events, buskers perform and families from all over town come to enjoy the activities. The park has history, culture and tremendous community value.
Then, a developer convinces the legislature that its too much trouble dealing with the city on development. Now, the developer only deals with the state. The new law guarantees a park, but it doesnt say where it has to be. So, the developer moves the park to an area five-miles out of town. And, to facilitate the move, an entrance fee will be charged. It isnt hard to imagine what would happen to visitation at the park. And, where will the people who live in town to meet with government officials, participate in community events and activities?
The people of the Truckee Meadows wouldnt stand for a developer perpetrating such a violation of the public trust. Why should they allow Charter to do the same thing with their PEG channels?
The above commentary appeared as a guest editorial in the 8-15-2008 Reno Gazette-Journal.
Contact: Les Smith
RENO, NV - AUG 4, 2008 - In an apparent move to free-up analog channels for more lucrative clients, Charter Communications is moving the public channels up to the digital band, effectively putting them out of reach for the citizens of the Truckee Meadows.
"A huge number of people in Reno, Sparks and Washoe County will no longer have access to the information, programming and media that was provided for them by federal law," said Les Smith, executive director for Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT).
"Unless a wide majority of viewers go out of their way to buy the digital box and actively search out the public, education and government (PEG) channels, they will miss the opportunity to see what their local governments are doing," Smith continued.
"They wont be able to get valuable information about whats happening in their community or enjoy programming provided for them by program producers in the community."
"Those who will be most affected right away are the government channels, Reno channel 13, Sparks channel 15, public access channel 16 and Washoe County channel 17."
According to Smith, channel 16, the public access channel, provides media access for community organizations like the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Humane Society and others, who will essentially be cut off by the move.
This move to put PEG channels onto the digital tier is not the first time that the cable provider has banished PEG channels to what Smith refers to as "Cable Siberia."
The educational channel was placed at channel 200. The channel was originally designated to be brokered by SNCAT and populated with programming from the UNR, TMCC and the Washoe County School District.
"TMCC produced programming and put classes on the channel to start with," said Smith,
"But, after Charter failed to follow-through with a promise to provide special digital boxes for students, the audience for channel 200 basically dropped to zero. So, TMCC gave up and they havent put any new programming on the channel for the last couple of years."
Smith predicts that the other PEG channels may share the same fate, if Charter is allowed to force this move.
According to Charter Communications, PEG programming currently reaches 75,000 households in the Truckee Meadows. These numbers will be drastically cut for the government and public channels if they move to the digital tier.
Currently, the vast majority of viewership on the analog PEG channels is incidental, but significant, usually the result of people surfing the basic cable tier. Both the cities and county indicate that a high percentage of the people polled in the Truckee Meadows indicated that they had viewed a public meeting or program on one of the PEG channels.
The Dean's List
The Dean of Reno Bloggers could very well be Andrew Barbano, self-described "fighter of public demons," who started putting his "Barbwire" columns online in 1996 and now runs 10 sites.
RENO NEWS & REVIEW, 11-9-2006
The campaign against forcibly-paid newspaper obituaries
And they wonder why the newspaper business is dying?
Phillips, Kevin; Numbers Racket: Why the economy is worse than we know
Harper's Magazine; May 2008; page 43
Phillips has authored numerous books on history and politics over the past 40 years. His most recent, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, was published by Viking on April 15, 2008.
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Copyright © 1982-2008 Andrew BarbanoAndrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org, former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee and serves as political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. He hosts live news and talk (775-682-4144) Monday through Friday, 2-4:00 p.m., at Barbwire.TV and Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 (for at least the next 90 days) and 216. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988. Tempus fugit.
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