Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Songs For The New Year

Post Christmas is always a bitter sweet time of year for me. No more presents to open, the eggnog starts going bad and my husband’s tolerance for endless hours of Christmas carol music streaming through the house goes right out the window. It’s probably that last one more than anything else that gets me, having to box up my Christmas c.d. collection knowing that I won’t be hearing those lovely tunes again until the day after Thanksgiving.

Being such a huge Christmas carol fan I was heartened to hear a new collection coming out of Lafayette Louisiana. The folks from the “Lafayette Coming Together Coalition” have recorded all your old favorites with new lyrics to reflect these special times we are living in. If you’ve been following events in Lafayette, they’ve been fighting an ugly battle to get a municipal fiber to the premises network built. BellSouth leads the way in blocking every attempt to bring Lafayette into this century. BellSouth is suing Lafayette even after residents went to the polls and by 62% to 38% voted for the fiber project.

The carols are sung from the perspective of the telecom companies. One of the lyrics I liked best, sung to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” was “We will never stop suing you!” Another fab lyric sung to “Let It Snow” was “We have no intent of stopping and the lies we tell are whopping, our Congressman we will woo, we will sue, we will sue, we will sue!” All the tunes are catchy and you will find yourself tapping your feet and humming along.

I was so inspired I decided to try my hand at this creative endeavor. For your singing pleasure I’ve reworked Auld Lang Syne.

They are the Bells, they’d like to say
On Capitol Hill it’s fine.
They like it so, cause don’t you know
They got Congress in line.

They have DeMint, Ensign too
And Stevens is good to go.
Lott, McCain are just the start
But don’t forget Mr. Crapo.

And in the cities big and small
The cable guys play mean.
They gouge old ladies with great glee
For the worst programs you ever seen.

The cable rates go up and up
And the service it gets worse.
The Bells say that they’ll do better
If we remove the franchising curse.

But who will protect consumers
And the precious right of way?
The Bells say they’ll police themselves
And in Hell there’ll be a long cold day.

So as the New Year comes again
Get ready for the fight.
They got the grease, the money too
But it’s us who’s in the right.

That song makes me nostalgic every time I sing it. Don’t miss going to the link for Lafayette Coming Together, it’s a nice touch to round out the holiday season,

Happy New Year!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Outting DeMint

When you look up the word “collusion” you are taken straight to an economic definition that talks about gouging and fixing and “game theory.” But collusion has many variations. You can collude to commit a crime. You can collude to keep your mother-in-law from finding out how much you actually paid for your new entertainment center. You can collude to keep your kids believing in Santa. And you can collude to get your piece of legislation passed.

Jim DeMint (R-SC) came out of the barn last week with a crummy bill he lovingly calls the Digital Age Communications Act, S. 2113. This bill is by far the worst yet. It gives communications companies “Rights of Way Authority” with no compensation whatsoever to local communities (or even private land owners) as long as they don’t mess up the “safety, function or appearance of the property.” There’s not even a “can’t you kiss me on the cheek first” provision. Seems communications companies (read the Bells) could go into a community, start digging and never even have to contact local government to tell them they’re there.

It gets better.

It completely eliminates all franchising and any existing franchises expire at the end of the franchise or four years after the bill passes, whichever is first. Access channels kaput! The bill strips not just local government of its authority, but also the authority of state government.

In a section by section analysis (done by whom I’d like to know) it states:

“As communications services become increasing digital and packet-based, it has become nearly impossible to rely on jurisdictional boundaries as the basis for regulatory responsibility.”


Further, the bill puts into jeopardy the Universal Service Fund, which I can’t quite figure out how that plays into “competition” and “consumer choice” but then again maybe DeMint has some special crystal ball or one of those “8” balls that you shake up to get a prediction.

DeMint’s creation is soooo bad that when somebody asked me about it the other day my speculation was that it would go nowhere. Then, today, I checked on the status of the bill and saw that Senator John Ensign (R-NV) was the sole co-sponsor. Bingo! Collusion!

Why would Ensign co-sponsor something so lousy when he already has his own version of communications nirvana out on the table?1. Because when you want somebody to take what you’re offering, you give them an alternative of something even worse and at the end of the day you call it compromise.

At least Ensign’s bill includes five percent of gross receipts even though there’s a list as long as my arm of exceptions and it includes up to four PEG channels. It even includes must-carry obligations and requires the FCC to come up with consumer protections. DeMint is total napalm, it’s clear cutting, bull dozing, scorched earth.

I looked all through DeMint’s records and his telecom contributions are anemic. I read his journal, looked up newspaper articles, tried to get a read on what DeMint was thinking. Nothing stood out, with the exception of a resolution to honor Shoeless Joe Jackson, but even that didn’t account for the viciousness of S. 2113. Ensign is the only reasonable explanation.

DeMint is a co-sponsor of Ensign and Ensign is a co-sponsor of DeMint. How cozy. I can see them now at a holiday gathering in the Russell Building, dipping their cups into the eggnog, winking, nodding and giggling like school boys. Ensign leans over and whispers in DeMint’s ear “We sure pulled a fast one, didn’t we Jimmy?” DeMint squeals “Shore did Johnny!”

Well it wasn’t quite fast enough because some of these guys never know when to quit, they just can’t keep themselves from going so far over the top they hair-lip everybody.

DeMint has a journal on his website and this week he quotes the great Winston Churchill’s “Never give in” speech. He hammers on that theme, saying you can never give in, never let the enemy win, you have to stay the course and fight the good fight for the sake of democracy and your country. Sounds like good advice, something the rest of us should really take to heart.

Whaddya say?

1. S. 1504--Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not So Bright House

Much has been made over the last few days about an infamous survey conducted by Bright House Networks in Hillsborough County Florida. According to their survey results, Bright House says that fifty-seven to sixty-nine percent of subscribers never watch Public, Educational or Government access programming. It is their contention that with such low viewer numbers the number of access channels should be reduced from six to three, so they can put “regular” cable programming on those channels. They’ve been trying to get the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County to re-open the fifteen year franchises and eliminate a $1.5 million dollar payment to Tampa scheduled for 2010.

There’s a couple hinky things going on here. First, I recently conducted two separate surveys for two separate cities that asked about access viewing habits. Both of those surveys had access channels being watched “sometimes” or “frequently” at sixty-seven to seventy-seven percent of respondents. Quite the opposite of Bright House’s numbers. And while Bright House’s survey found that fifty to eighty percent of respondents didn’t think Public, Educational and Government access programming was valuable, my results showed fifty-four to seventy-three percent of respondents said access programming was important to the community.

How could there be such a discrepancy between what I found and what Bright House found? Maybe because they were asking the wrong questions. They should have asked the following questions of subscribers:

1. How many times per week would you say you watch the “Golf” Channel?

2. When Bob Eubanks asked Couple #2 “Your wife says your ‘blank’ is twice as big as your ‘blank-blank’” how did that make you feel?

3. How many times in the last month would you say you’ve seen the same Dukes of Hazzard episode?

4. “Cold Weather Boots” is a hot hit in other parts of the country, do you think its content is relevant to the people of Tampa?

5. One of our channels carries “Yes Dear,” followed by two back-to-back episodes of “Family Feud.” Do you think we should turn that around? In other words, two episodes of “Family Feud,” followed by “Yes Dear.” Or should we mix it up, say, one “Family Feud” followed by “Yes Dear,” and then another “Family Feud?”

It’s a dicey business trying to figure out what people will watch. Just last Sunday, my husband and I watched three episodes in a row of “Clean House.” It was cold outside and we had thrown a party the night before and wanted to couch potato all day. But we were mostly compelled by seeing what filthy slobs people can be and how wacky they can get about giving up their 200 piece stuffed animal collections.

When I think of all the crapola we pay fifty-bucks a month to see it burns me a bit to hear some unimaginative cable operator coming out of the gate with an argument against access. Particularly an argument that nobody watches and nobody thinks it’s valuable.

One theme that resonated in both the surveys I did was that subscribers did not feel they were getting value for the money. They complained about how channels had been added and the cable op had raised their rates and they were now paying for channels they didn’t even want (like Outdoor Fishing Adventures maybe).

My favorite write in response to a question to gauge satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their cable service was “I never would have believed I would have to PAY to watch commercials!” Seems this respondent remembers back to the old promise of cable, no commercials.

Cable rates go up, up, up! Cable companies cram as much advertising in as they can possibly get. Cable companies fight to walk away from obligations incurred by using public rights of way. And yet, they contend that how we manage our access channels and what programs are seen on them are not nearly as important putting the movie “Matrix” on fifty times in one month.

So Bright House needs to answer this question:

“Your greed is as ‘blank’ as your stupidity is as ‘blank-blank’.” Don’t worry, take your time, this is one show everybody’s watching.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Monkey On The Nod

My cable went out. Dead as a door nail. And there we were, forced to actually talk to each other. It was a little scary and it made me think that my marriage might be glued fragilely together by Law and Order or West Wing reruns. The house felt so quiet and my nervousness grew as I realized I had no internet access.

The next day we watched the clock waiting for the cable guy to show up during our scheduled 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. appointment. Round 12:30 I called Comcast and the lady said he’d be there between 1 p.m. and 4:30. I told her that we had been scheduled for the morning, she told me I must have made a mistake.

“Your person told me between 8 and 12.”

“You must have heard it wrong,” she said.

What was I to do? Crawl through the phone and smack her? I was at her mercy. I wanted to scream.

“For God’s sake! Don’t you understand? I am missing CNN!”

I had no choice but to take it. If I went off on her I might never see the repair guy. They can do that you know. They can punish you by not showing up, so you have to keep your cool, getting angry will only put you in the dog house.

Finally at 4, Vincent arrived. He was puzzled by the fact that we had no signal whatsoever all the way from the box to our house.

My husband said “See…it’s the stuff you write, they’re after us now. You shoulda kept your big mouth shut.”

Vincent was a pleasant young man. He crawled into the bushes and connected an orange line to the box and then rolled it down our hundred foot driveway all the way to the back of our house and suddenly, just like that, Everybody Loves Raymond was blaring into my living room.

That was three weeks ago and the orange line is still snaking up my driveway. I try to be careful when I drive over it, I don’t want to mess up that line and risk the chance of another night of having to come up with fresh new things to say to my husband in an effort to keep him entertained.

TV is a drug and I am hooked, I might as well have track marks running up and down my arms. And it’s not like I sit around watching it all day, I just have to know that when I hit that remote I can count on getting a picture and some sound. Without that reassurance I feel queasy. This is all my husband’s fault, before I married him I didn’t even have cable I had rabbit ears. But nooooooo…he just had to have the History Channel and now we are stuck in expanded basic hell.

That’s how it works. First you get basic, then they tempt you with expanded, then they lead you into premium and then digital and the next thing you know you’re renting a DVR. All the while you don’t realize that your pocket book is as empty as a Moose Lodge on Sunday morning. People were screaming when gas prices sky rocketed but what are you supposed to do when they raise your rates 20% in less than three years like they’re doing in San Francisco? At least with gasoline you might have a choice of taking public transportation or walking or consolidating trips to conserve but with cable you’re either in or you’re out, there’s no halfway. Try to find a tv that works good with an antenna anymore, the cable industry took care of that when they got the tv manufacturers to standardize “cable ready” sets.

It’s a sick dependent relationship and they know that, they count on it. It’s why they can be such schmucks when it comes to franchising because they know we’re all a bunch of Nancys when it comes to having our cable.

I gotta a good mind to walk out my front door right now and tear up that orange line snaking down my driveway. I think if Vincent doesn’t get here in the next couple of days to bury that line I just might do it. Maybe I’ll even call up Comcast and let them know that I’m setting a deadline. If I don’t see Vincent sometime between now and the New Year, that’s it for them! Right after the ball falls in Times Square all bets are off. Or maybe the next day immediately following the Rose Parade, I’m through! Okay so I could make it as far as the Super Bowl but that will be that! I’m not kidding, this is serious this time. I really, really mean it. As soon as those Winter Olympics are done, I’m done! No really...I mean it...

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Por Un Amor

I was just hanging out last night watching “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” tapping my feet to Hurricane Party, when I started thinking about this article I read in the online National Journal’s Technology Daily. The article talked about how minorities were split over the issue of video franchising. Seems the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the country, the League of United Latin American Citizens or LULAC, is weighing in on the side of the Bell Boys up on Capitol Hill.

LULAC’s mission is to “advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States.” They have an impressive and wide ranging platform of positions on issues important to the Hispanic community. So I was a bit confused as to why they would support the destruction of local control over franchising given that it would wipe out PEG, never mind the Bell Boys refusal to avoid redlining on the roll out.

Then I saw the quote by Hilda Solis (D-CA), whose campaign for state assembly I worked on when we both lived in La Puente California, and she noted that Verizon had rolled out a 26-channel Spanish language package in Keller Texas.

“There has been discussions about why the cable industry hasn’t picked up on that,” said Solis.

Fair enough.

So I looked up Verizon’s Spanish language package, their “En Espanol” tier, and saw it included channels such as Canal Sur, Discovery en Espanol, TV E International, MTV Espanol, CNN en Espanol and Toon Disney en Espanol, among other listings.

That got me thinking that the cable industry really is the rat pack of dolts I have always assumed they were, why weren’t they paying attention to this large and important market?

So I looked up Comcast’s Spanish language package rolled out last spring in Irving and Richardson Texas. They did have a Spanish language tier that included a 23-channel Spanish language package. It included channels such as Canal Sur, Discovery en Espanol, TV E International, MTV Espanol, CNN en Espanol and Toon Disney en Espanol, among other listings.

Being completely confused I read down the article. Oooops! There it was. Verizon gives $35,000 a year annually to LULAC. Probably for their annual convention because there is a sponsorship package called “Judicial” that is exactly $35,000. And not to be outdone, SBC Communications recently donated $1 million for a LULAC project called “Empower Hispanic America With Technology Project Centers.”

Hey, for a million bucks I could plug my nose at stinky legislation.

Shame that what’s being lost in this discussion is the complete destruction of local Spanish language programming found thriving on Public access. The kind of Spanish language programming that doesn’t just reheat English language programming but digs down deep into what’s going on in Hispanic lives, real lives in real neighborhoods and real communities. The kind of Spanish language programming that gives a voice to the Hispanic community and doesn’t just see them as consumers and target markets.

This support for the national video franchising legislation has pitted LULAC against the NAACP and the National Conference of Black Mayors who understand that obliterating local franchising will impact minority communities adversely, not just because of the redlining or the loss of PEG, but from the loss of revenue to local communities those franchise fees provide. Less revenue, fewer programs to assist challenged communities…the money has to be made up somewhere, might as well take it out of pockets that are nearly empty anyway.

I don’t know if there is any way to change LULAC’s mind on this one. Too bad cable didn’t step up to the plate with a million, but at least they should squash Verizon’s pr that they are offering something unique to the Spanish language viewers. And I don’t say that because I just love the cable guys, I don’t. I say that because I would hate to lose localism because one side or another was a better liar.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shut Up And Eat Your Kibble!

I think it’s so cool that Senator John Ensign is a veterinarian. I love my dog and I think veterinarians are wonderful people. But maybe all the time spent with animals makes Ensign need a reality check or at least a fact check. See you can say anything to a dog and they’ll just wag their tails and take your word as gospel. Not so much with people, people tend to want you to tell the truth or at a minimum, not distort truth.

Ensign claimed that his S. 1504 that would eliminate local franchising for video services would cause cable companies to slash their rates in the face of this new competition by the phone companies. He cited a small town near Ft. Worth Texas, Keller, as the perfect example of this. He said Charter cut its rates 50% when Verizon began offering its video service a few months ago.

Let’s take a moment to parse these assertions.

First, Verizon just started offering its video service one month ago, not a few months ago. Verizon did this by first obtaining a local franchise from the City of Keller and that did happen several months ago, long before the state of Texas decided to wipe out local franchising for the Bell Boys. Seems that the local franchising process did not stand in the way of Verizon finally rolling out its service.

Second, Charter did not cut its rates 50% in response to Verizon. Charter started a one-year promotional offering long before Verizon jumped into the fray. They put together this really terrific promo called “Charter's Biggest Package.” It includes eighty-nine channel expanded basic, plus one tier and two premium channels along with Charter's lower speed Internet (384) for $49.99. The normal price for these bundled services would be $98.98. Makes me want to move to Keller.

But didn’t Charter do this out of fear of the big bad Verizon?

“We have significant competition from dish. It’s not the first time a competitor has entered the market,” says Kevin Allen of Charter.

These facts did not prevent Ensign from using Keller anecdotally in a speech to a crowd at the Heritage Foundation “I think this would happen all across the United States because, guess what, competition leads to better services at lower prices. There is no question that if my bill were enacted that’s exactly what we would see.”

Good thing Ensign admits that his bill won’t be passed this year. In fact, since its introduction last July it’s only picked up eight cosponsors (including Senator McCain who cosponsored its introduction in the first place). That’s a far cry from the dozens of cosponsors many pieces of legislation have at introduction or even three months later. He shouldn’t sweat it though because his bill has exactly the same number of cosponsors that S.1200 has. S. 1200 is a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to reduce the depreciation recovery period for certain roof systems. Of course S. 1200 was introduced a full month and a half before S. 1504 and the roofing lobby is not nearly as powerful as the telecommunications lobby.

I don’t know that any time soon S. 1504 will see seventy-one cosponsors like S. 1047. S. 1047 will require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of each of the Nation's past Presidents and their spouses, respectively to improve circulation of the $1 coin. Do you think they’ll even include Warren G. Harding’s wife who it is rumored poisoned him with arsenic? S. 1047 is a very important bill because we all know how Americans just love those $1 coins!

It could be that Ensign believes his own hype. It is my speculation that he is just howling at the moon and chasing his own tail. The Bell Boys have him fetching the ball and jumping through hoops. They probably tossed him a bone. It’s quite clear that he is covered with fleas. But it is sad to see him frothing at the mouth. I could go on and on about his incessant barking, but more than anything else I really do hope somebody puts a leash on him and soon.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Who Do You Say That I Am?

That Saddam Hussein sure is a slippery fella. He’s on trial for his life and what are the first words that come out of his mouth?

“Who are you? I want to know who you are,” he says to the presiding judge.

It’s like the tactic SBC is employing in Walnut Creek. They’re challenging the City’s authority to require a franchise agreement for their delivery of video services. Their attorney fired off a missive to City Council claiming they were unlawfully interfering with their business plan and denying SBC their rights. Not so says Paul Valle-Riestra, assistant city attorney, Walnut Creek has every right under the Cable Act to require franchise agreements for video services.

While SBC, BellSouth and Verizon waste precious time wrangling with every community east and west of the Mississippi, Wall Street is looking askance at the viability of these companies’ video plans.

“The fundamentals…just don’t look very attractive,” said Dan Genter, president and CEO of RNC Genter Capital Management.

According to Reuters, concerns include:

· Worries about competition for basic phone service from the cable guys.

· Slow down of growth for wireless as it reaches 70% penetration (no doubt on that one, I think my husband’s ninety-eight year old grandmother is the only person I know without a cell phone).

· Huge amounts of capital spending on network upgrades.

and last but not least, pay close attention to this one…

· Health care and pension costs for retirees.

That last one should make you sit up and bark because if you’ve lived on this planet for more than five minutes you ought to know what is coming down the pike. Can you say United Airlines? Can you say default? Can you envision dumping it back on the taxpayers through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation?

In other words, as I have said until I am blue in the face, these guys embark on a business plan that stinks from the get-go and is a decade behind, they can’t overcome the competition (Comcast, Time Warner), they can’t project their saturation point and they run around recklessly throwing money into the ground like a gold miner at a cat-house, and yet…and yet…places like Walnut Creek are supposed to give them a free ride and their own pensioners will probably have to take one for the team.

I just looked at the clock and realized it is way too early for me to be getting my blood pressure up. Breath in, breath out.

“Who are you? I want to know who you are.”

Brings to mind that last scene in the truck on the way to Fresno, when Ma Joad tells Pa that “We’re the People. We just keep a’comin cause we’re the people.”

Hats off to Paul Valle-Riestra and all those folks in Walnut Creek including Robert Rothgery (producer and activist) and to the Walnut Creek City Council. They ain’t buyin what the SBC guy claimed that “It’s a totally different technological concept than cable TV.” But then again, you have to thank Comcast for this one…remember months ago when Comcast was pulling stunts on Walnut Creek and Walnut Creek had to take Comcast to the shed?

Nope…just like good old Saddam…the Bell Boys don’t look very attractive. And just like Saddam, they’re really adept at shifting blame…all those franchise agreements, all that pension money. I’m just hoping that at the end of the day the verdict will be in the people’s favor.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rich Gifts Wax Poor

I used to have this neighbor who was always doing unsolicited favors for me. At first I thought she was just being generous but soon I learned she was attempting to make me feel obligated. She’d do things like lend me a bassinette for my new born son or bring over a cake she had baked or she’d offer to do my hair. It wasn’t long before she began asking me favors. Could I drive her and her kids to the doctor? Could I lend her fifty bucks? Could I buy one hundred dollars worth of Tupperware so she could get the “hostess prize?” After a while I stopped answering the phone and the door in order to get her off my back.

That’s pretty much the M.O. of the cable operators. They do stuff, sometimes big stuff but mostly little stuff, in a community in order to build up their I.O.U.’s so at some point in the future they can extract repayment. Some might call it bribery, I call it “good business” even if it isn’t honest and the motives are purely self-serving.

Bright House Networks recently wrote the City of Tampa asking to cancel a $4.7 million dollar payment to the city and to reduce the number of channels provided for access from six to three. According to Bright House, this “gift” would allow them to offer subscribers 30 more channels with broader appeal such as BET and C-Span. They also offered to change the bill so the subscribers could see how much money goes to the city and not into their own pockets.

Their generosity doesn’t end there. They have a special “Community Partners Program” and every quarter they pick a nonprofit organization for which they create 30 second video “salutes.” Then there’s the Airtime Grant program valued at $10,000 to $25,000 in “advertising” for 501 (c)3’s.

I guess the Airtime Grant program is the Community Partners Program on steroids. But it’s what we in the business used to call PSA’s. Remember PSA’s? That’s when television and radio operators used to take dead air time that they couldn’t sell and throw in a nonprofit message. Seems there was some notion at some point in the dusty past, that service to the community through things like PSA’s were a natural obligation of those who were granted broadcast licenses or access to Rights of Way.

I can see why Tampa would cancel a $4.7 million obligation and turn back three access channels to Bright House, after all, Bright House is giving, out of the generosity of their souls, 30 second salutes and up to a whopping $25,000 in FREE airtime to needy nonprofits! Now the access channels will give nonprofits thirty minutes to an hour every week or even five or six times a week, but hey, let’s not mince the distinction.

It’s the Cherry Blossom Festival or the stadiums or the rodeo or the Chamber of Commerce picnic or the reading program or the sending of employees to paint playground equipment. It’s the “what we’ve done for your community.” They’re keeping a list and checking it twice so you better not be naughty you better be nice.

Meanwhile cities and counties get side-winded by these good corporate citizens. The ops gifts equal $500 or maybe even $50,000 but they want $4.7 million in return. Kind of like my old neighbor, “Here’s a cake now can you give me $100?”

My advice to the City of Tampa is to do what I did, stop answering the phone and the door and eventually they’ll go away. At the very least make darn sure you give back the bassinette, trust me on this, baby doesn’t need it anymore.

"Brighthouse Seeks New Deal" Tampa Tribune, September 27, 2005.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Can't You Smell That Smell?

Desk jobs are overrated. You sit at a computer screen all day, your eyesight goes bad staring at the monitor, your back feels stiff because you aren’t moving. Sometimes I watch people who do physical labor and think that it’s a better way to go. At least you get some exercise and if you’re lucky you get to work outdoors. Of course, wimp that I am, I only want to work outdoors on “nice” days.

Verizon peaked my interest this week with a posting I found for a job opening called “Splicing Technician.” Part of the job description reads as follows:

“Performing light digging. Using test equipment to check for gas in manholes. Locating buried underground cables and wire may be required. Reading and interpreting engineering plans and interacting with the Engineering Group. Wiping and unwiping solder joints.”

Now I have never done “splicing” but how tough can it be? And from what I read in the papers I don’t have to do it perfectly because nobody else at Verizon is doing that great of a job.

One Ronald Ledford of Columbia Maryland refused to let Verizon tear up his front yard. He’d probably heard about the residents in Leesburg who were “irked” by Verizon’s digging of trenches in their front yards. The Leesburg folks said it “looked like a bomb had hit” after Verizon was done and they were mighty concerned about the damage to trees from all the digging. Seems crews were operating off of “faulty maps” so they didn’t stay within the easements. Yep, Ledford of Columbia wasn’t going to let that happen under his watch.

So Verizon had to dig a trench through the public right of way adjoining Ledford’s property. It was after they moved on that Ledford smelled something funny and heard a “hissing sound.” A couple fire trucks and repair crews later the gas leak was stopped.

“Oh my God,” said Ledford “I could have had my own eternal flame out there.”

And that was not all; looks like the Verizon crews also cut electrical and cable lines in front of his house.

If I had been on the job I would have made sure I had plenty of black electrical tape on me to wrap those gas, electrical and cable lines, just like the Verizon guys did down in Fairfax City and Herndon Virginia. There’s nothing that you can’t fix with black electrical tape, it’s one of the great inventions of the last century!

I wonder what a gross of black electrical tape cost these days? You’d have to have a case or two handy when you are trenching, splicing, wiping and unwiping solder joints. According to Linda Foy of Baltimore Gas and Electric “There is an increase in the number of strikes (to gas lines) but the volume of work that Verizon is doing is unprecedented.”

Leford certainly knows that, he and his neighbors have been smelling gas up and down the street because at Verizon “We Never Stop Working for You.”

And it seems they just can’t work fast enough. Not only is there huge pressure to splice and dice, they have all those local franchises they have got to somehow figure out how to get around. A recent Precursor Bulletin seems to throw a wet-blanket on the idea that Section 621 (a)(1) of the Communications Act could provide relief to Verizon and its buddies for the “material acceleration of the Bells’ (VZ, SBC) timetable for getting franchises and entering the video market.” Precursor suggests that their only relief might be through the courts and even then that’s doubtful given “there is very little evidence of widespread intent among localities to impede Bell video entry, but rather efforts to streamline the process.”

Precursor says that 621 (a)(1) will have to be a “remedial measure for individual local abuses.”

Too bad 621 (a)(1) is silent on the issue of killing trees and endangering whole neighborhoods by puncturing gas lines.

I am much encouraged about my chances to get an outdoorsy job like that “Splicing Technician,” position. The part about detecting gas in manholes is a little scary and I certainly have no clue as to how you read and interpret engineering plans, but that “wiping and unwiping” solder joints is something I think I could do. Besides, I’ve always found black electrical tape to be mysterious and somewhat exciting.


Columbia Flyer August 25, 2005.
Washington Post June 30, 2005.
Loudoun Times Mirror February 15, 2005
Precursor Bulletin August 24, 2005.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hello Mother, Hello Father

Ah, summer is coming to an end. Kids are on their way back to school, there’s a gentle nip in the air. The other day, I was reminded of the joys of summer when I pulled up next to a big yellow bus full of children coming back from some camp. Actually, they weren’t really children, they were just “child-like” men and women in business attire, on their way to somewhere or another, singing a classic camp song. At first I couldn’t quite get what they were singing but I did notice they rang bells as they sang, so I rolled down my window and this is what I heard.

99 Senators sit on the hill,
99 Senators sit.
Take Stevens down, pass Ensign around,
Now no more Senators sit on the hill.

Over 400 Reps sit on the fence,
More than 400 Reps on the fence.
Grease a few up, by filling their cup,
Now ya got no more Reps on the fence.

You can get a Congressman to do what you want,
You can get a Congressman to do.
You got enough money, he’ll even call you “honey”
While the rest of the country gets screwed.

The cable guys moan all the time,
But the cable guys are just fakin.
They like the fact that we’ve got their back,
And we’re bringing home their bacon.

We’re about ten years behind,
We’re at least a decade behind.
We should have built out, but now we just pout,
Because we were too stupid to lay fiber line.

Our business model is a failure we know,
It’s a failure but we are so greedy.
Cable has won the broadband race to the home,
So now we’re going to redline the needy.

Pesky cities get in our way,
They’re pesky and in our way.
They talk about ROW, but Lord don’t they know
We’re the Bell Boys and we don't have to pay.

We’ll finance our stock on their backs,
Like Enron and our buds in World Com.
No one will know, till we’ve stolen their ROW,
And by then we’ll have quickly moved on.

We’re the Bell Boys yes we are,
We ring-ring and we dingala-ding-ding.
Our technology is old, yet we’ll get your gold,
Faster than any old crook up in Sing-Sing.

Well there you have it! The young at heart having fun and as usual it’s at somebody’s else’s expense. Hearing those girls and boys singing so gleefully with such treachery in their hearts reminds me I better call my wood-guy. Looks like it is going to be a long, cold winter.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

Isn’t Mick Jagger fab? The guy just turned sixty-two in July and he is still strutting his stuff with a vengeance. Even my twenty-three year old son is a huge Stones fan. It gives us something to talk about.

Mick may not know it but he has a lot in common with LaChania Govan of Illinois. She can’t get any satisfaction either. She called Comcast at least forty times in one month to complain about a newly installed digital recording box and was repeatedly put on hold and sometimes thrown into the Spanish language voice mail. She doesn’t speak Spanish. But she can read her bill and it was just insult to injury when she got nailed for $77.50 during her month of trying to get the box to work right.

However that was not the icing on the cake, on receiving her bill she noted that somebody had changed her name to “Bitch Dog.” Mick would probably take that as a compliment but LaChania was not amused.

Comcast reps scratched their heads and mea culpaed. They need to keep doing that because I have a sense there’s a whole “corporate culture” thing going on with them and various other cable guys.

J.D. Power and Associates just released results of their latest customer satisfaction survey on cable and satellite. It was over-builder WideOpenWest that lead the pack with a whopping 717 points out of 1,000. They beat out DirectTV by one point. Multichannel News reports that overall cable is doing much better in customer satisfaction and there’s been much talk lately about how cable is decreasing its bleed of customers to satellite. Funny how that “customer satisfaction” thing can help the bottom line, funny how long it’s taken cable to figure that one out.

I did find it hysterical that Comcast rated a 631 only two spots ahead of Adelphia even as Adelphia wrestles with bankruptcy. And it is the first time any cable operator has scored number one in satisfaction since 2001.

Meanwhile battles rage over competing franchises and even though the cable guys are running scared while the bell boys bear down on them I find it interesting to note that they didn’t spend nearly as much money in Texas as they probably should have. According to reports, SBC spent from $3.3 million to $6.8 million on lobbying while Time Warner, the biggest cable company in Texas, spent from $220,000 to $505,000. The Houston franchise alone is worth more than $500 million a year!

Then again, maybe the hundreds of thousands Time Warner spent were just for show, they certainly stand to gain from the franchise eliminating legislation even if they are stuck in their current franchises in the meantime.

So while Mick and LaChania can’t get any satisfaction, so too it goes for most cable customers around the country according to J.D. Power. The only people seeming to get satisfaction these days are the cable ops as they secretly dance the victory dance in the wake of the huge spending on lobbying and greasing politicians being done so well by the phone companies.

Maybe instead of LaChania being called that name, Comcast actually meant for Verizon and SBC to be called “Bitch Dogs.” Under the circumstances it certainly would seem to be appropriate.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Wages of Sin

Finally the FCC is doing something right. Seems they have hired a special advisor in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, a Ms. Penny Nance, whose job it will be to root out “indecency.” Just last January Nance sent a letter to President George Bush calling for a stricter enforcement of laws and identifying a “huge indecency problem” in cable. Her most recent gig as board member of Concerned Women for America should prove quite helpful in this noble endeavor. Concerned Women for America describes its mission as “helping to bring Biblical principals into all levels of public policy.”

Can I get an Amen?

Amen brother, I have a few places where Ms. Nance can start tackling this “indecency” epidemic in cable.

Let’s begin with the ninth commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Sure it’s not as big as murder or adultery but lying was still a sin the last time I looked. And if you want to get theological about it, it’s not just lying but “bearing false witness” which covers even more territory.

I want to talk about the sin of bearing false witness to get people to unwittingly buy a service they don’t want or need, like the digital tier. Cable operators take pay channels, like HBO or Cinemax, that until recently were available in analog and move them up to the digital tier. Nothing wrong with that you say? We’ll all have to migrate sometime you say? Sure there’s nothing wrong with the concept but what is wrong is how they go about informing their customers of this switch.

It would seem industry wide they all use the same tactic. They send out letters to the customer letting them know that the only way to get HBO or Cinemax is to buy the digital tier but they fail to let their customers know that all they really have to do is rent a converter box. The difference in price is as much as $15 per month. It’s what the FCC calls a “buy-through.” That is moving a channel up to digital so you can squeeze even more bucks out of the consumer. It’s supposed to be illegal to force people to buy digital services just to get a pay channel but so far the FCC is doing nothing about it.

In September 2003, the Cable Advisory Council of Enfield Connecticut filed a Petition for Review with the FCC because Cox was doing exactly that, making customers "buy-through." Then in April 2004 the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisor filed comments in support of the Enfield complaint. So far, nothing. Meanwhile the operators just keep on keeping on, bearing their false witness and duping folks. No wonder Comcast has seen a 64% jump in profits and no wonder every time these cable guys get together they drink champagne. And it all gets dumped back into the lap of the local franchising authorities who then have duke it out with the operators just to force them to tell the truth.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lies of the cable boys and their fellow travelers the phone fellas. Need I mention Texas or Arizona or Kentucky?

It is good that the FCC has finally seen the light and hired a lady who knows sin when she sees it. Perhaps we should set up one big confessional right there at the portals on 12th Street in D.C. and have all those gentlemen from Time Warner and Comcast and Cox and Verizon and SBC line up to request absolution and get baptized with the holy water of the Potomac.

Then again, maybe we should actually start with getting the FCC on the path to righteousness. While it’s not a commandment, the sin of omission is a real sin. As I remember it from Sunday school, not doing something is just about as bad as doing something.

Hey Ms. Nance! Hope you brought plenty of ecclesiastical white-out with ya, you’re gonna need it!

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Calculating Calamity

I spent some time yesterday crunching numbers. I was trying to figure out how many potential households a particular video program could reach in the cities where it was being carried on cable systems.

It was pleasing to estimate that for the one hundred and forty two communities the program was being carried, some 8.2 million households would be reached. These were franchise areas that ranged from 3,300 subscribers to over 700,000 subscribers. A wide variance of numbers to be sure, with teeny tiny towns to large metropolitan areas. Then it occurred to me that my numbers equaled real dollars to be lost in the national franchising scheme proposed by Mr. John Ensign (R-Nevada) in his frenzied attempt to bail out the telephone companies.

Just in these 142 cities and towns the sum would be at minimum $25 million each and every month or $300 million per year. According to the National League of Cities there are 19,429 “municipal governments” in the United States so my little calculation represents less than 1% of the total. My numbers are skewed because there are places like Houston on my list but I also have places like Cedar Hill, Texas. Ever been to Cedar Hill? Me neither.

But ain’t the Federal Government going to collect a 5% franchise fee? I’d love to dignify that speculation with a response but just don’t seem to have the juice for that today.

Ensign said in his floor statement that we should consider the amount of GDP growth that will be generated in the next five years if we update our laws. He said that growth will be $634 billion dollars. Ensign then cited the 212,000 new jobs that would be created by decimating telecom regulation. Those 212,000 new jobs at the $634 billion dollar figure comes to roughly $3 million for each and every one of those jobs. $600,000 per year for each of those jobs would seem to guarantee they’ll be mostly management positions.

Those figures come directly out of the United States Chamber of Commerce report released last October and widely vamped throughout the country at seminars, conferences and sympathetic web sites. Which goes to show if you say something often enough it eventually becomes true and it’s even more true when you can get a Senator to say it on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile Houston stands to lose around $30 million a year in franchise fees. St. Louis could lose $20 million. Aurora will lose about $1.2 million. Tumwater will lose about $147,000 and Cedar Hill will be out $118,000. So the 212,000 new jobs that will be created could easily be offset by cities and counties having to lay off people in order to make up for the lost franchise fees. It would only take an average of eleven people per city and county being laid off to destroy Ensign’s grand plans of job growth through corporate subsidy. Losing eleven staff in Tumwater might seem like a lot but you’re going to have to really swing the axe in places like Houston to make up that $30 million shortfall.

But the Feds will be collecting those franchise fees and doling them back out to the local community. See paragraph four above.

You’d think the gaming industry that fills Ensign’s pockets with campaign contributions would be telling Ensign to cool it. Less money going to municipalities, more money out of taxpayers’ pockets, fewer opportunities for grandma to try her hand at Roulette. Course the casinos could be hedging their bets on those 212,000 people who will be bringing down $600,000 per year in those new jobs.

The upside of this bill is that Ensign guarantees that local governments will still be able to manage their rights of way and he guarantees that there will “still be a local point of contact if consumers have problems.” Maybe that’s where those new jobs will be created. So instead of the elimination of regulatory positions (since there won’t be anything to regulate) there will be the creation of a whole new vocation, LPC’s or Local Points of Contact. And at $600,000 per year starting salary I’m thinking about dusting off my resume just in case the LPC thing really takes off. Viva Las Vegas!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Buy High, Sell High

You ever have that conversation around the kitchen table with your friends? The one about how you wished you had bought Microsoft in 1988 or Google in 2003? It’s that conversation that has you calculating how much you might be worth right now had you only invested five or ten or twenty thousand dollars in such ventures. The conversation usually ends with somebody saying “I could retire right now!” And everybody else woefully shaking their heads because they know deep in their hearts they are never, ever going to be able to retire.

In case you are now totally depressed as you reflect on the IPO’s that passed you by or that piece of farmland you should have bought because it now sports a mega-shopping mall, I bring you good tidings of great financial renaissance! If you haven’t already learned, in cable and telecom it ain’t over, it ain’t even close.

Kagan Research has just reported that the average cable bill will jump from $80 a month to $100 a month in the next three years. And cable revenues will double from $66.5 billion to $139 billion in the next ten years. While the Associated Press screamed a headline that said BellSouth reported a 20% drop in second-quarter profit, a closer read shows that after heavy investing in wireless and broadband, the company is realizing in a six-month revenue increase of 1.7%.

Smelling just as sweet, Verizon reports in its July 26, 2005 press release “total quarterly revenues of $7.8 billion, up $1.0 billion, or 14.6 percent -- the 12th consecutive quarter of double-digit year-over-year revenue growth increases.” They’re even having a conference call to hoot and howl about it right this very minute as I write this.

It will only get better as my favorite House Democrat, Mr. Rick Boucher of Virginia, promotes redlining of communities through the elimination of “build-out” requirements for the Bells and for cable (wink-wink).

“That kind of build-out requirement has no place in a competitive environment,” says Rick. Instead “market forces” should determine new construction.

Joined by Senator Ted Stevens (quickly becoming my favorite Senate Republican), Boucher found himself in sympathetic company.

“I don’t expect to require anyone to do anything,” says Stevens.

I love Steven’s Bohemian attitude. In the Steven’s panorama I look forward to ignoring the Homeowner’s Association guidelines for my neighborhood that vex me so. I think I’ll just start driving right through traffic signals, sleep all day long and refuse to pay my taxes. After all, Stevens said “I don’t expect to require anyone to do anything.”

But while Steven’s is a man of lowered expectations, Brent Olson, Assistant VP for Regulatory Policy at SBC has plans for the future. Olson said SBC wants to “harmonize” communications related taxes and fees assessed at the state and federal levels. Clarifying what “harmonize” might mean, Olson told the National Journal that he was talking about federal excise taxes not specifically franchise fees.

“Market forces”



Somebody fire up the incense, I perceive a fifth dimensional celestial administration is about to line up the planets.

The good news is there is still time to make your fortune hedging your bets on telecommunications. Not that I recommend cleaning out Junior’s college fund (reflect for a moment on World Com and Adelphia), but with market forces being what they will be and absolutely no regulatory structure whatsoever (or one that is completely bogus at best) you could find yourself stuffing your mattress with real cash.

In my next economic forecast we will explore all the things you will need to do to try to hang on to any of that cash as you end up subsidizing (through income, property and sales taxes, municipal and state fees, even higher college tuitions) the free ride Republicans and Democrats are about to hand over to telecom. Be sure to bring a calculator and try to find out from your grandmother how much she’s got stashed away, you’re going to need it.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

All Carrots and No Stick

It’s easy to get to the point where you can be completely cynical about politics. Our representatives love to play fast and loose with ideas and language and can never resist the hyperbole. If “Grandstanding” were an Olympic sport, Congress would be the gold medal team. When Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner announced her resignation last week I felt a huge ball of anxiety rise up through my chest. The fight for her replacement will no doubt be ugly with phrases like “nuclear option” bantered about and plenty of childish behavior on both sides of the aisle.

It against this backdrop of extraordinary partisan divisions that two bills were introduced (House and Senate) proving that when people really want to they can come together for the self interest of large corporations. The “Video Choice Act of 2005” lays to rest the notion that there are two irreconcilable political parties in this country. It completely dispels the mythology that one party represents “big business” while the other party represents “the public interest.” These two bills sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, are a testament to the Telecommunication Industry’s ability to lobby the pants off anybody and to the inherent ignorance required to warm a seat on Capitol Hill.

So the phone companies won’t need local franchises to offer video services but they will be required to pay franchise fees and provide Public, Educational and Government access channels and “reasonable” access facilities.

If franchise fees, access facilities and channels were the only thing that went into franchising this might be okay. Every franchise in America would be about two pages long and it certainly would reduce the hours and paperwork that goes into obtaining a decent franchise. But fees and channels are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to management of Rights of Way and enforcement of franchise provisions.

I recently had the pleasure of reading a needs assessment report in which no less than 60 violations of electrical code by the cable operator were cited. My favorite violation was the line hanging over the school sign. This report of violations was by no means comprehensive because these violations were found doing “spot” checks of the cable system not a walk-through of every foot of line.

Then there’s the payment of fees by the cable operator with no report of what those fees are based on. Or how about the case of the cable operator who did redline the community only doing upgrades to neighborhoods above a certain income level? Or how about the operator who did transfer the property without letting the county in on it?

Even if you do buy that these bills require “reasonable” access facilities what does the word “reasonable” mean? In a lot of communities that consists of a playback deck squirreled away in a corner of some operator’s head end.

With no franchise what are local governments to do when payments are late or customer service is lousy? What are they to do when somebody gets electrocuted because some contractor didn’t give a hoot? Should they call the Public Utilities Commissions in their state or maybe fire off an email to the FCC?

The United States Telecom Association has been running these cutesy little commercials in which one actor tells the other actor about an important phone call or email message they got or this great movie they saw on t.v. last night. The other actor replies “Was that on DSL or cable modem?” It’s supposed to be an amusing way of claiming that the phone companies need to be deregulated.

Maybe it’s time to do a commercial of our own. Same scenario, same set of actors. But when the second actor asks “Was that on DSL or cable modem?” the first actor can reply “Does it matter? They both use Public Rights of Way.”

Email, phone calls are needed (my preference is phone calls): and

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Time Warner's Guru

It’s less than five hundred miles from the City of Dayton, Ohio to the County of Mecklenburg, North Carolina but it might as well be five billion miles.

On the same day that the County of Mecklenburg was filing a lawsuit to force Time Warner Cable to live up to its promise in the franchise agreement to build an institutional network (among other things), the City Manager of Dayton, James T. Dinneen, was waxing rhapsodic about the great changes in franchising looming on the horizon.

“The real world is changing, our whole society is changing and government is going to have to adapt,” said Dinneen. “I don’t think you have to be a media guru, the one thing I’m sure of is that the arrangement we’ve had for the last thirty years with Time Warner is going to change.”

Okay, I can handle that, in my opinion change is good, even if you’re not a media guru or any other kind of guru for that matter. But he couldn’t stop there.

“And when you talk to Time Warner, I think what they’re going to tell you is that this whole issue of whether we get a franchise fee, how much it is, how it works, this whole thing of cable TV is changing.”

Hold up Cowboy! When you talk to Time Warner? When you talk to Time Warner? They’re going to tell you whether or not you get a franchise fee and how much it will be?

I guess it’s time for me to explore selling cosmetics door to door because if more city managers start running to Time Warner to get the low down on what is or is not possible in a franchise negotiation, I’m out of business.

He goes on.

“So the world can change in an instant, so what Time Warner is warning us is that in this process things are going to change.”

What a stark contrast between Dinneen and the County Manager of Mecklenburg, Harry L. Jones, who issued a scathing denial letter to Time Warner in December for their failure to negotiate in good faith after nearly eight years of giving Mecklenburg the run-around. Reading the denial letter you can feel Jones’ disgust with Time Warner and Jones’ rock solid determination that Time Warner was not going to play Mecklenburg for a patsy. Maybe Jones could give Dinneen a few pointers in integrity and courage.

A huge part of Dinneen’s wishy-washedness stems from his belief that Dayton Access Television (DATV) should go looking for funding sources elsewhere and not from the franchise agreement with Time Warner. Never you mind that DATV has been around nearly thirty years and has a stellar reputation for delivering high quality services to the community.

Even the Mayor of Dayton, Rhine McLin, praised DATV immediately after Dinneen got through his public capitulation.

“DATV provides a lot of services to people who would not have this opportunity to learn how to work behind the camera. DATV has some history.”

She mentioned a woman who started with an internship at DATV, went on to college and most recently produced an internationally acclaimed film that was shown at Sundance. And she is joined by kudos from access users during the portion of public comment, not to mention numerous interviews with access users in the June 19th issue of the Dayton Daily News who gave account after account of how DATV changed their lives.

So Time Warner talks of change, but DATV delivers the opportunity for change. Mmmm.

I found it most amusing that in the article in the Charlotte Business Journal, Time Warner contended Mecklenburg was out of line given the “changes” in the cable and data services industries since 1981. Sounds like a theme doesn’t it?

Yes, the times they are a changing, and maybe in Dayton one of the first things that should change is who it is that occupies the City Manager position.

You can have the pleasure of witnessing Mr. Dinneen's performance at this link:

You can have the pleasure of reading his comments at this link:
Funding For DATV Threatened: Dayton Daily News

And last but not least...the Mecklenburg story:

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

What, Me Worry?

My husband drives me crazy sometimes. He is “Mr. Preventative Maintenance.” The oil in our cars is changed at regular 3,000 mile intervals. He keeps meticulous records of all service our autos have received making sure the tires are rotated, the brake pads are measured and all the fluids are checked and changed out. But it’s not just the cars. He dutifully replaced the oil in our new lawn mower, just as the manual told him to, after two hours of use. He spent quite a bit of time online finding just the right winter cover for our new air conditioning unit. Eye exams are every two years, dental cleanings every six months without fail, insurance policies are carefully examined and the dog gets her yearly visit to the vet right on schedule.

Me, not so much. If it doesn’t sputter, squeak, falter, look bad, smell bad or show signs of rust, I’m not too concerned. I put off an eye exam so long that by the time I finally went, the optometrist shook his head and said “Lady, there is no way you could pass a driving test with that vision.”

My personal “What, Me Worry?” philosophy of life makes me inclined to think that the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s latest proposal to turn the Federal Communications Commission into the Federal Trade Commission is somewhat interesting. The idea is that the FCC stops doing all that preventative rule making and just sits back and waits to “respond to instances of abuse of market power.”

“This far-reaching and comprehensive reform would replace regulation based on techno-functional characteristics with market oriented regulation,” said working group co-chairman Randolph May.

I love it when people come up with new terms. “Techno-functional” sounds like something you’d hear blasting out of London nightclubs in the 90’s.

May went on, “We felt a benefit of our approach was that it would largely eliminate the elaborate web of rules and regulations that has grown up under the existing statute.”

PFF thinks regulation should be based on antitrust laws and economics probably because mentioning pesky stuff like the “public interest” is profane. Then again, when they do get around to mentioning the “public interest” it’s a definition of “public interest” that is purely market driven rather than consumer or service driven.

Later today there’s what they are calling a “public forum” at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill. It will include Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada) and FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy. Lunch will be served so that will be good. A report will be officially issued on the FCC as FTC and folks will be invited to ask questions. PFF President Ray Gifford called the new proposal “bold thinking.”

But it seems to me that all this schmoozy talk isn’t anything new although it certainly is “bold.” This proposal smells like what my mother used to call “closing the barn door after the cow got out.” You don’t do anything until something happens, but as honest people understand, once something happens it may be too late.

Which brings me to another point. Don’t you just hate it when people put together these “think tanks” under the auspices of intelligent inquiry and supposedly objective empirical exploration and all they end up being is a front for big business?

I finally got my eyes examined because my husband wouldn’t stop nagging me. He wasn’t satisfied to wait until I actually got into an accident while straining to read road signs. So in that way, I guess he’s like the current regulatory regime. He was trying to prevent a disaster. Me, on the other hand, had these deep underlying motives (vanity for one) that made me justify jeopardizing the public interest. So in that way, I guess I was like the Progress & Freedom Foundation, so blind they shouldn’t be trusted to drive.

Read all about it! Progress & Freedom Foundation!

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Get 'Em While They're Hot!

He was just “there” one day. In my front yard. I hadn’t asked him to be there he just appeared. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing and then I realized he was selling hot dogs, right there on my lawn.

It wasn’t just the obnoxious stand that I objected to but the hole he had dug to access my water pipes and my electrical lines. Sure he’d covered the trench back up but now my lawn had this bizarre cut line running through it and I could tell that the grass would never grow along that trench in quite the same way. I was a little shy about challenging him but finally I gathered my courage.

“Excuse me sir, but who are you and what are you doing?”

He barely glanced at me and then stated with great emphasis, “I am the hot dog man!”

At first I thought how convenient it would be to have a hot dog man in my front yard. I really like hot dogs and it would be great just to open my front door and be handed a hot dog.

I looked at his menu; he had over 200 varieties of hot dogs! Geesh, I thought, with that many different kinds of hot dogs I’ll never get tired of eating them. I could have hot dogs morning, noon and night, 24 hours a day, seven days a week! I got kind of excited. There were hot dogs for kids, hot dogs for harried house-wives, hot dogs for the career woman, the blue collar guy and the business man. There were hot dogs that were ethnically and racially specific and tons of sports related hot dogs. There were even hot dogs from foreign lands with names I couldn’t pronounce. I could be connected to hot dogs like I had never been connected before. Now anything was possible. I had a friend in the hot dog age. I could get hooked. The hot dog man would never stop working for me. (1)

The thrill was short lived. Soon a long line of people were coming up my driveway and queuing up on my lawn to get their hot dogs and they were paying good money too. The hot dog man had various packages he was offering his customers and for a monthly sum he would deliver his hot dogs to everybody in the neighborhood.

His customers became completely hooked on the hot dogs. Once when the power went out, my phone began ringing off the hook. One woman screamed “Where are my hot dogs!” “I don’t know ma’am,” I answered, “let me check with the hot dog man.”

I opened the door and asked him what was going on and he said “Yeah, I’m aware of the problem, there’s a crew on the way.” Then he waved me off like I was bothering him.

While I too was completely addicted to the hot dogs it began to occur to me that this guy was using my front lawn to do his business but he wasn’t paying me any rent. I started counting his customers, there were lots of them. I noticed that he was raising his prices every other week and charging for little things like mustard, relish and onions. There were extra charges depending on whether the customers wanted a napkin or a paper plate. And even though it was my property he was using to conduct his business he acted like he was doing me a favor.

Finally I told him “Look mister, if you are going to continue to sell hot dogs from my front yard, you’re going to need a contract with me.”

He didn’t like that at all, but still he asked “Okay, what do you want?”

“Well, for starters I want you to give me a percentage of your sales to compensate me for use of my land. Then I want you to restore my lawn to the way it looked before you dug it up. And I want to be able to make my own hot dogs once in a while.”

He was blue in the face. “Do you realize that if you make me pay you and I have to fix your lawn and I let you make your own hot dogs it will drive up the price for all my customers and unfairly burden them?”

“Hold on mister,” I said “I’ve been watching you drive up the price every time you get the urge for no rhyme or reason, don’t tell me you are concerned about your customers!”

He threatened me. “You better watch it lady, the mayor is one of my best customers. And I got customers in the state house and up on Capitol Hill. You mess with me and you won’t see a dime.”

So I threatened him back. “Be that way. Take your hot dog stand off my lawn and stop doing your business here.”

“Wait,” he said “maybe we can work something out.”

That was over twenty years ago and the hot dog man has been selling his hot dogs from my front lawn since that time with tremendous success. We’ve had our ups and downs and I’ve had to take him to court a few times to get him to live up to his contractual obligations. I’m a little worried because lately he has become even more arrogant and he has hired lots of lawyers and lobbyists.

And the other day I got a whole new surprise. I opened the door and there on my lawn, right next to the hot dog man, was the ice cream man putting up his stand. I immediately told him that he would have to enter into the same kind of contract that I had with the hot dog man. He didn’t like that and he started calling his buddies in the statehouse and up on Capitol Hill. So far I am winning, partly because the hot dog man has been on my side. But the other day I looked out my window and the two of them were talking. Now I’m really nervous.

(1) Taken from the slogans of Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications, Charter and Verizon.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Easy, Cheesy Sessions

I make what I call a “50 pound Lasagna.” That’s because by the time I get through it weighs about 50 pounds. I take great pride in my lasagna and on many occasions have been told it’s the “best lasagna” ever. It’s a meatless dish with cottage cheese instead of ricotta because I find ricotta a bit too rich. There’s a liberal amount of garlic, oregano, black olives and onions in the cottage cheese mixture and thinly sliced tomatoes in every layer. When I can I try to make sure to get fresh lasagna noodles instead of the boxed kind, it does make a difference. It takes a full hour to bake.

So imagine my horror when I was perusing Pete Sessions’ (R-TX, 32nd District) web page and came across the family recipes which included a lasagna that called for “smashing up” a bar of cream cheese, adding a 16 oz. container of sour cream and Healthy Choice marinara sauce. Then they instructed the reader to layer this disgusting mess over lasagna noodles, smother it with cheddar cheese, cover the whole thing with Saran wrap and stick it in the microwave for ten minutes!

Some people really do not know how to cook, or to govern for that matter. Some people take no pride in their creations and they are perfectly willing to spew out pigswill in the name of expediency or campaign contributions.

Sessions just introduced his Easy, Cheesy HR 2726 called the "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005" that will give the phone companies what they have been denied all over this country, the ability to shut down municipal broadband projects. This should not surprise anyone given that Sessions’ campaign contributions reads like a “Who’s-Who” of Bell Bambinos and he did spend 16 years working for Southwestern Bell. His official bio says:

“Thanks to this private sector experience, Congressman Sessions understands the need to fight bureaucracy and to utilize market-driven solutions to effectively solve problems in our communities and in government.”

Well I’m glad he understands that because he certainly doesn’t understand how to make lasagna.

Go to his campaign disclosure forms and you see $23,500 just from SBC, Verizon and Bell South. And you’ll note the “Southwestern Bell Internet Services” listed as “spouse salary” with the amount being “na.” Then there's dividends and interest income listed from AT&T, Bell South, Cisco, SBC, Verizon and other telco related companies ranging from $1,001 to $1 million (each). That’s a lot of cheddar and all this for a former Eagle Scout.

Looks like Pete is cooking with gas.

Here’s one instance when I actually have sympathy for the cable operators. Those poor saps only put in $12,000 between Time Warner, Comcast and NCTA in the last cycle. What were they thinking?

Pete is certainly dedicated to “Preserving Innovation in Telecom.” And he seems to have a thing for Saran wrap although I couldn’t find campaign contributions from SC Johnson so that puzzled me. Guess he likes transparency or maybe he doesn’t like getting his microwave dirty.

For more fabulous recipes that you can whip up in an instant using fake food go to

For more legislation using fake motives to make the phone companies even more money, just keep your eye on Sessions.

My all time favorite source for campaign disclosure is:

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Saginaw Our Saginaw

Down in North Carolina a couple years ago, was this lady who was determined to have the City Council meetings cablecast on the Government access channel. I tried to help her. All she wanted to do was video tape the Council meetings, uncensored, unedited and let the public decide if they liked how Council was behaving. At one point she said to me “I know more about what is going on at the White House than what is going on in City government.” I thought that was darn profound.

But some elected officials just can’t stand the scrutiny. They really like it when only five or six people show up in person and they don’t like it when those meetings get aired and you get forty or fifty people watching them from home. And they really get their noses pushed out of shape when the camera catches them mugging or snoozing or even in one instance I remember, flipping the bird at their opponent.

Then let some nimby-type gad flies show up and start criticizing in an open public forum that is being shown on TV and these fine upstanding politicos just can’t resist the urge to censor.

So it goes in Saginaw Michigan. Home of the largest bean elevator in Michigan and probably the largest bean brains to hold office. On Monday night Councilman Amos O’Neal won a 6-2 vote to “cease and desist with telecasting of council meetings effective immediately.” When asked what immediately meant, O’Neal responded he meant right that second and ordered the government access director to pull the plug. The channel went from the live cablecast to a bulletin board.

That didn’t make sixty-six year old Lois Beckert too happy, she grabbed her keys and her purse and made a bee line for City Hall where she proceeded to sit for the next five hours.

“The Council is so ignorant,” said Beckert. Of course she didn’t get to voice that opinion during a live cablecast.

O’Neal used money as his excuse for his behavior. But then he said “Obviously people use this podium for a platform. We don’t need to provide a platform for them to advocate their positions, either pro or con.”

I guess O’Neal can’t cogitate that at the very second he pulled this stunt we have American men and women off in foreign lands giving up their very lives so that the people in Saginaw Michigan can advocate their positions whether pro or con. Shame on O’Neal for being a bully. And shame on the other five who went along with it.

Clement Atlee, the British Prime Minister after Winston Churchill said “Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking."

So maybe that’s what O’Neal et al were trying to do, create an effective democracy by shutting people up.

If the only thing a Government access channel ever does is show City and County Council meetings it has earned its weight in gold. That channel has increased democracy by a thousand times and it has assured our ability to live in a free and open society. But a Government access channel cannot do its job when little Napoleans get elected to office and seek to destroy it.

The official song of Saginaw boasts a wonderful city where truth and beauty reign. Maybe O’Neal needs to learn the words of that song and maybe the voters need to teach him that tune come November.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

The Devil Evolves

No one talks about playwright William Inge anymore. George Lucas is the story teller of the current generation and in the Lucas mythology the hero always triumphs.

Not so much with Inge.

The Inge protagonist can hardly be called a “hero” and most often they do not triumph, but always they learn something and come away different than they were. I am supposing it was Inge’s Midwest upbringing that made him shy away from the Lucas signature final scenes of people cheering and dancing to great musical scores that would have made Wagner proud. Inge just oozed with constant angst because he knew something true, something an Anglican priest of the same name knew, that the Devil is always evolving.

Early on in my dance with politics I learned you shouldn’t demonize your opponents. It makes you lose perspective and it compromises your ability to defeat them. But I don’t know that you can call what is going on in Texas anything less than evil. The Bell Boys have been defeated here and there, right and left, in their insatiable quest for indulgence, but they have managed to put up one heck of a fight in Texas. It looks like they are on the verge of gutting the ability of cities to regulate the use of their rights-of-way through Senate Bill 408 which will give the Public Utilities Commission control over franchising.

Their champion du jour is a man who claims high morale character of the sort he’d make a TV preacher proud, Representative Phil King. It doesn’t take much scratching to find King’s dubious side, what with reports of fancy affairs paid for by telecom lobbyists at $4 million dollar homes. This “Man of G_d” plans to re-introduce his deregulation legislation that will strip Texas cities of millions of dollars of revenue on the Christian Sabbath, which has opponents crying foul since they won’t see the legislation until Saturday when nobody is at the Capitol and they will only have 12 hours to get their changes in. Yes…the Devil is always evolving.

And the Devil is in the details. It’s not just about who gets to stick it to the phone companies, it comes down to giving a free ride, welfare checks you might say, to corporations who already make more money than the law should allow. Meanwhile that lost revenue has to be made up somewhere, like the public schools or police departments or job training programs. As I remember it “greed” is one of the seven deadly sins. While I am all for capitalism, I am not for thievery and you can’t call SB 408 anything less than that.

The folks in Texas have been doing a stellar job. The Texas Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the Texas Municipal League and Common Cause have mobilized, faxed and phoned until their fingers are blue.

But my heart is full of angst of the Midwest William Inge kind. Sometimes good does not triumph over evil and there are no orchestrated celebrations to carry you off into the sunset. Sometimes you just end up coming away a little sadder and a lot wiser.

I’m hoping not. I’m hoping Texas is able to defeat this legislation, because if they do they will provide an example for the entire country. So if you know anybody in Texas give them a call or write them an email and tell them to get to their state legislators asap.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

And The Winner Is...

Good evening! This is Bunnie Riedel coming to you live from lovely downtown Dinuba, California where I am standing on the red carpet of the “Most Loathsome Telecom Corporation Awards.” You can feel the excitement in the air as the nominees of these awards are about to arrive. This star-studded event proves to be even more thrilling than in previous years because various Telecom Corporations have gone out of their way this year to prove how really “Loathsome” they are and the competition is fierce.

Just arriving we have Comcast Cable. Their achievements in being odious range far and wide but this year they really outdid themselves by taking the tiny city of Walnut Creek, California to court for refusing to grant a franchise until Comcast made a commitment to upgrade their system. Doesn’t Comcast look absolutely stunning with all that egg on their face?

Next I see Cox Communications! These boys really know how to give despicable a new shine. First they tried to pull that stunt to reduce franchise fee payments out in Arizona saying that they only cared about the “poor tax payers,” then they paid for a poll in Lafayette, Louisiana claiming that if Lafayette built a municipal system the city could “ration” television viewing to three days a week. Cox has a charm that so many of the other contenders do not possess, they are not only hateful they are also extremely amusing.

Wow! Here comes Verizon! Verizon is new to the field of video delivery but they are certainly making their mark! I am not sure I could even count the number of legislative initiatives they have written to destroy municipal entry. And that’s not even their best performance when you consider all the state level franchising legislation they have socked millions of dollars into, the oh so generous promise of a PEG channel here and there and the attempt to subvert the management of Public (and private) Rights of Way. They may be new but there is no doubt they are a brilliant star in Loathsome Telecom.

I haven’t seen SBC yet, but rumor has it they are an odds-on favorite for their recent announcement that they are just going to build systems and wait to be taken to court. It’s that kind of repugnant behavior that may have them walking away tonight with not just one but several awards.

My favorite has just arrived and don’t they look fabulous! I’m talking about Vonage of course. Vonage has proven its genius by offering phone service and forgetting to tell the customer there’s no 911 capability. Vonage has demonstrated abhorrent behavior beyond the pale and they could come out of tonight’s gala a clear winner. Keep your fingers crossed.

Next week I will be reporting from the equally important “Kick Them to the Curb Awards.”

Early information is there are several nominees that are outstanding.

I understand that Mecklenberg, North Carolina is a front runner for denying Time Warner a franchise after they gave TW several opportunities to come to the table with a reasonable offer. Walnut Creek, California is also a competitor for not backing down from Comcast and winning a victory in federal court. One of my votes will go for Malverne, New York whose brave mayor issued a “stop work order” to Verizon for laying fiber right and left without a franchise agreement.

Since these awards are based on the “People’s Choice” model, only you can decide who will take home the top prizes. You can use the comment button below to cast your vote for any nominee in either award. Or you can name a nominee of your own! Say who you want for “Most Loathsome Telecom Corporation,” or the “Kick Them to the Curb Awards,” and we will tally up the results.

Meanwhile, this is Bunnie Riedel, reporting from the red carpet, reminding you to stand up and fight!

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Absence Of Malice

It’s been tough for me to keep up with what’s going on lately. It’s required all my spare time just trying to keep up with the Michael Jackson trial. I mean there’s the real news about the real trial on all the broadcast and cable networks and there’s all those real-life re-enactments courtesy of E! News Presentations.

This distraction has caused me to miss the monumental struggle going on in Lafayette Louisiana over the municipal Fiber to the Premises plan. And it’s been hard for me to get up to speed given that Cox and BellSouth are rolling out some creative new tactics.

Backed by the Louisiana Cable Telecommunications Association, the cable and phone folks have been able to get a Democratic State Senator, Sharon Weston Broome, to introduce legislation that forces a city to hold a referendum to get citizen approval before they can build municipal FTTP. Now that’s nothing new, that’s straight out of the playbook. But what is new is language in the bill that would suspend operator obligations to provide PEG access, I-Nets, system re-build demands and other monetary requirements if the municipality does build its own plant. The suspension of obligations would remain in force until the local government has spent as much on these obligations as the commercial providers have paid in the previous decade.

I can’t be sure if that is straight up blackmail or legislative genius. And I have a huge urge to call up Senator Broome and ask her how she sleeps at night.

But I am reminded not to “attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity." Like the phone poll of Lafayette residents that was conducted by a marketing firm out of Florida just this week.

One of the things that “dumbfounded” resident Debbey Ryan was the pollster’s claim that the municipal system could ration TV just like water.

“They said that if the government controls the cable TV that you may not be able to watch TV except on Monday, Wednesday and Friday ‘cause they could ration your TV watching.”

Now I think I am a smart woman and I’ve been around the political block a couple of times, but never, not even on my best day could I have thought that one up! That is a talking-point that would make any K-Street lobbyist proud.

Of course Cox was dodgy when questioned by reporters and Gary Cassard, the Veep of operations in Lafayette claimed that his company had no direct part in planning the questions of the poll. And the BellSouth guy, John Williams said the poll did not originate out of his office in Lafayette. He even went on to give his phone number for anyone who wanted to call him and talk about it. The number is 261-2800, you’ll have to look up the area code yourself.

Malice v. Stupidity. Malice v. Stupidity. My vote is for Stupidity. You spend thousands of dollars to hire a marketing firm to conduct a poll for you and you don’t even know what the questions will be? And you convince yourself that anyone is going to buy that you didn’t know?

Thank goodness the residents of Lafayette are not the rubes Cox and BellSouth have taken them for. But it’s easy to understand the lack of judgment demonstrated by Cox and their buddy BellSouth. These are the same media companies who actually believe the majority of the American people want all Michael Jackson all the time.

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Talking Trash

Every once in a blue moon I come up with a great idea. Here’s one I’ve given quite a bit of thought to and am convinced it will work.

The “federalization” of trash pick up.

Follow me on this. See when I lived in Los Angeles County we paid for a private company to do our trash pick up. It was great. You could put a refrigerator out on the curb and they would haul it away just like your kitchen trash. Recycle was put out on the same day as regular trash and it too would just magically disappear.

Then I moved out here to Maryland to this fancy-schmancy planned community and experienced the agony of a complex set of rules regulating the trash. Mondays are my pick up day. I am allowed two containers of regular household trash. They will not take my trash if I have thrown in things like a car battery or an empty paint can and they certainly won’t let me put an old couch out on the curb. There’s a whole other day for recycle and yard waste and the rules on that are also quite strict.

The recycle has to be separated between metal, paper, glass and plastic. Containers with yard waste cannot weigh more than fifty pounds and they cannot contain lots of dirt. Branches and sticks must be no more than four feet long and must be bundled and tied. Again, no toxins are allowed such as empty Ortho weed killer containers.

I think this unfair discrepancy between how things were done in Los Angeles County and how things are done out here has got to end! Therefore the time has come to federalize all trash pick up in order to alleviate the burden on residents for this complicated mish-mash of local regulation that treats trash differently depending on which coast you’re living on.

My preference would be for the national regulations to be the same as the L.A. County ones, a lot looser with no real limitations. Local communities would not be allowed to pre-empt the federal system regardless of their supposed “reasons” for attempting to do so. The federal government would collect the trash money every year along with the income tax and then distribute the money back down through the states and from the states back down to the local government. Or better yet not distribute the money back down the pipeline at all, just create a whole new Department of Trash that hires the thousands of trash guys needed, sort of like the Transportation Safety Administration screeners at the airport.

And if there ends up being some problems, we could create a national hotline for people to call to report them and somehow or another get resolution.

I am much encouraged that this could work especially after reading about the Baby Bells promoting the idea of a national franchise in hearings on the Hill the other day. A national franchise for the Bell boys in which they agree to pay the federal government the franchise fee and provide the locals with access channels is an idea whose time has come. I mean aren’t you a wee bit curious about what that would look like and how swell that would work? And I am chomping at the bit to get that Needs Assessment contract, with that kind of thing I could just go ahead and retire.

It’s like the trash thing, why should the requirements for L.A. County be any different than the requirements for Howard County Maryland? Of course LA didn’t have to be concerned about the environmental needs of the Chesapeake Bay from land-fill and storm drain run off but Howard County makes way too many demands on the residents.

I can relate to the Bells on this. It’s way too cumbersome to have to take local concerns into account when all you want to do is just be able to put out your trash.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Meet Me In Malverne

If you take the Long Island Rail Road out of Penn Station in Manhattan you can be in Nassau County in less than an hour, even with the train change in Jamaica. My recommendation is you go straight to the Village of Malverne and try to do lunch with Mayor Anthony Panzarella. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t like being lied to and he takes decisive action when he discovers he’s being played for a patsy.

According to the Nassau County Village Officials Association (NCVOA) newsletter Panzarella, who was also serving as President of the association, became “livid” after learning that while Verizon was trying to soft-soak the villages into granting it fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) permits it was simultaneously leading the charge to eliminate franchising authority at both the state and federal level.

I think what really steamed Panzarella was a statement by Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe:

“We don’t think we should be forced to crawl under barbed wire in terms of all the local negotiations we have to go through.”

Panzarella didn’t like being referred to as “barbed wire.” Can’t blame him. And it wasn’t just the forked tongues of the Verizon reps that put Panzarella out of sorts; it was also the aesthetics of the FTTP.

“In addition to being illegally placed, the ugly green boxes are visually blighting.”

So using his ability to communicate in the Village News, Panzarella wrote:

“Folks, we’d better not let Verizon lull us into a false sense of security by promising us the world on the question of cable TV service. Chances are we’ll get nothing, and in the process lose our franchising authority! In a nutshell, we’ve got a fight on our hands!”

Yes, Mayor Panzarella, you do have a fight on your hands and it seems to me you’re doing a pretty good job of it.

In a bold and wonderful move Panzarella issued a “stop work” order to Verizon demanding they remove all FTTP cable and boxes that may have already been installed and he urged every one of the 64 villages in the association to do the same. He even provided a sample letter for them to use. That’s the kind of behavior that makes me want to run up to Malverne this minute and pick up the tab for the lunch! It’s also the kind of thing that makes me wish I were a fly on the wall when Verizon consultant Paul Trane and Director of Community Affairs Janet Jones opened that letter. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching these big important corporate types get a poke in the eye from a guy who runs a village of 9,000 residents.

I have found over the years that often it is the smaller towns and cities that have no compunction about taking on the behemoths. Maybe because they don’t have so many lawyers on staff or maybe it’s because they’re closer to the accountability of the people. It’s tough to go grocery shopping and have somebody nail you in the frozen food section for being the wimpy mayor that cow-towed to Verizon. No matter, it’s just a huge lesson for all villages, townships, cities and counties, if Panzarella can do it, so can you.

I’m trying to think of a way we could all thank Mayor Panzarella. In my opinion he definitely deserves some kind of an award. Maybe we could start just by dropping him a line at and letting him know how swell we think he is.

See the Village News at

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

April Love

I’ve decided to start a campaign to get Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO, to marry my daughter. He’s not unattractive and now that she’s twenty-five, I figure it could work. Maybe I’ll invite him over for dinner and let her do most of the cooking so he can be impressed by her culinary skill. Or I’ll arrange a chance meeting at some charity benefit or another. Yeah I know the ticket price will probably be high but it will be worth it. Brian got an 18% raise last year and now he’s pulling down over $21 million a year. At those prices I’d agree to marry him if it weren’t for the fact I kinda like the husband I have.

The Big “B” also got restricted stock awards valued at $3.3 million and stock options for 800,000 shares of Comcast valued at $9.1 million. He’s just the kind of son-in-law I’ve been looking for: family oriented, ambitious, a neat appearance and rich, rich, rich!

A couple years ago I actually contemplated going after one of the Rigas boys, but what a disappointment they have turned out to be. You can never tell with these rich people, one minute you’re cruising the golf course (the one you built on your own estate) and the next minute you’re wearing a government issued orange jumpsuit and staring down some real time. Not the “I sold crack cocaine on the street corner” kind of time, but 215 years worth of time. I mean if I had actually moved on the idea of marrying off my daughter to Timothy Rigas (Little Timmy as he is called) when I first thought of it, we’d be spending all our weekends traipsing up to some federal prison for visitation. That wouldn’t have been fun.

And it’s not like we could have kept this all within the family to avoid the embarrassment of having a criminal for a son-in-law, it’s been all over the papers about what Timmy, Mikey and their daddy did. The Attorney General of the United States himself held a press conference yesterday joined by some heavy government types at which he said:

“The evidence also showed that the defendants systematically looted the corporation’s assets for their own benefit, using the company’s money to buy real estate and other assets for the Rigas family and causing the company to issue hundreds of millions of dollars worth of securities to the Rigas family, for which the company was never paid.”

Now that shows a certain level of ignorance. Pappa John Rigas was a Greek immigrant who worked his tail off to create and build Adelphia. It was the American dream especially when they took the company public and issued stock. Then he and his kids, including Timothy, who by this time is Chief Financial Officer, sit around the kitchen table and come up with wacky schemes to run it into the ground. Not only were they willing to destroy all those years of hard work so they could go on African safaris, move into swanky New York apartments, fly guests for sister Ellen’s wedding in on company planes, but they actually convinced themselves they wouldn’t get caught. Rotten apples don’t fall far from the tree I suppose.

So they are going to prison for stealing billions of dollars from stockholders and the old man has agreed to a deal that obligates all members of the family to forfeit to the federal government over 95% of all the family’s assets. Being able to hang on to less than 5% of your assets doesn’t leave you with much except the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet. Sure am glad I never figured out a way for the Riedels to become part of the Rigas family but I wouldn’t mind finding out when and where the seizure sales are going to take place. Bet you could find some good stuff up on the auction block.

Yeah, I’m gonna stick to pursuing a lasting partnership between the Riedels and the Roberts. It’ll work on several levels, the Roberts seem a little smarter so they might not mess up the gene pool, as with the Rigas arrangement I won’t have to change the monograms on my towels and I’ll have a son-in-law with the same initials as I have and that’ll be convenient.

I haven’t let my daughter in on this plan yet. There’s a possibility she could object even after I painstakingly lay out the extraordinary financial benefits of owning a cable company. Not to worry, I have a back up strategy that includes one or more of my nieces.

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