Monday, December 27, 2004

Chilly Reception to Charter's Weather Plans

At 10 a.m. on December 27th, the temperature in Sault Ste. Marie was exactly zero. Just a week earlier on December 21st, it was even colder at the Sault Ste. Marie City Commission hearing. Seems their cable op, Charter Communications, offered to scale back the basic tier offering by six channels and reduce the monthly charge for basic by a whopping 99 cents as part of the new franchise agreement proposal.

One of the proposed channels to be eliminated was the Weather Channel. Makes sense given that Sault Ste. Marie sports a moderately temperate climate this time of year of snow, freezing rain, ice and more snow. Heaven knows the residents don't need to actually find out what weather is headed their way.

A man after my own heart, Commissioner William Munsell, said of the proposed agreement "This is crap."

It's not like Charter is completing eliminating the Weather Channel it's just that if citizens want to get it they'll have to pony up almost $46 a month for expanded basic. And there's not a darn thing that local government can do about that rate.

City Attorney Steve Cannello explained to the Evening News that "The cable lobby has done a better job than the municipal government lobby in the congress."

Makes sense.

Let's see, Cable Lobby = $65 billion a year income vs. Municipal Lobby = a few organizations like National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, League of Cities, Association of Counties, Mayor's groups and Municipal Lawyers thrown in here and there.

Cable Lobby = 24/7 on Capitol Hill, at the FCC, at the statehouses, on the golf course, opening day at Camden Yards, lavish receptions at the Russell Building, and of course those pesky checks for campaigns.

It's not a done deal yet. Seems the Commission has appointed Munsell and another Commissioner, Verna Lawrence, to meet with Charter representatives about the proposed agreement. My guess is there's probably more in the proposed franchise that is unacceptable to the Commission than just the elimination of the Weather Channel from the basic tier. But the Commission shouldn't have to endure being forced into a corner just because the cable guys got their way with deregulation. One of the key issues in the rewrite of the Telecom Act has got to be rate regulation on all the tiers, not just basic, putting the power back into the hands of local government in the interest of its citizens.

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