Thursday, January 27, 2005

He's No "Saint" Nick

Why do I constantly get the feeling there are some cable executives that need to be taken down a notch or two? Is it ego that drives these guys or just old fashioned insensitivity? The latest irritant is a quote in the News Sentinel by Nick Pavlis, Charter's regional government-relations manager. Responding to a query as to why franchise negotiations are being held up over a request for $50,000 to fund an institutional network in Loudon County Tennessee, Nick says:

"Show me a business plan of how those funds will be used.”

The county has already said it wants to establish “an institutional network that would put cameras in government buildings and schools to broadcast public meetings and special events.” What more do you want Nickie? Proof of a Standard and Poor’s Triple “A” bond rating?

It would be laughable if it weren’t so ironic. Asked to provide definitive plans for how they will upgrade systems, cable ops guffaw. Asked to open their books for inspection (as in Sacramento), they outright refuse. Asked to justify their ever increasing rates, they just lie. But a county with a population of not more than 40,000 asks for a lousy $50,000 for an I-Net and you get a smart aleck like Pavlis treating it like a red-headed step-child.

It’s not as if Loudon has shown itself irresponsible with money. They have spent several years saving money toward building the institutional network, they’ve almost got what they need and the $50k they’re requesting will make it happen. Instead of recognizing the energy and good faith effort the county and its Cable Television Authority have put into realizing this modest dream, Pavlis has decided they need to grovel just a wee bit more. Hey Nikster, think they should give your shoes a good shine while they’re busy genuflecting?

Of course it’s rash of Loudon to want to put cameras in government buildings and schools to cover meetings and special events. The citizens of Loudon, seeing themselves and their community on television might actually start to think they are somebody, that their community is special and we wouldn’t want that to happen. No, can’t afford to have the citizens informed about what is going on in local government or celebrating a music festival.

Nick says getting this franchise agreement completed is at the top of his list this year. He says he hopes he can have the details of the contract hammered out by this summer. That’s doable, I’d say. All he has to do is stop being so miserly and stubborn and cut the check. After all, it’s not even his money, some of it actually came from the wallets of the locals.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Isn't It Romantic?

Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television has spent a lifetime of being a bridesmaid but never a bride. The plain and somewhat awkward stepsister of public broadcasting, PEG has just never seemed to get her due. That looks like it is about to change, because a muscular new kid by the name of Verizon, has moved into the block and he has come a courtin’.

I’m speaking of course about the PEG provisions included in two Virginia bills, HB 2534 and a yet un-numbered companion piece introduced into the state senate by Senator Walter Stosch. My opinion of 2534 is that it sucks and there’s naught to be done to make it better. Stosch’s is a half-life version of the house bill, going from 40 year franchises to 20 year franchises, which still reeks, but there seems to be this unprecedented emphasis on PEG channels and support in it.

According to the Virginia Municipal League, the bill includes: a commitment to carry at least 5 public access, educational or governmental channels (PEG); the payment of a 5% franchise fee to the municipality; and a payment of 1% toward the operation of PEG channels and I-Net’s. The devil does end up in the details in that providing an exact number of channels does not account for expansion of the system at a later date and the demand for channel capacity that municipalities will experience (especially over a 20 year term). Also while there’s money for the operation of PEG channels and the I-Net, could this be actually shifting the burden onto the municipality for those operations or requiring them to absorb the cost of building the I-Net in the first place?

I just found it so odd that PEG ends up being at the top of the list of things to sweeten the pot so Verizon can get out of local franchising. My mother used to call that “petting the cow to get the calf.” She was describing how boys I dated would always go out of their way to be extra nice to her, even bringing her little gifts or offering to mow the lawn.

It has the potential for being a good thing. PEG has endured rough treatment at the hands of cable for way too long. Her new beau is making the cranky cable guy sit up and take notice. I’d caution PEG not to swoon too fast over this new fella because he’s got lots of other motives and not all of them are honorable. PEG, honey…play your cards right, be coy, make demands (guys like that)…and when push comes to shove, never settle for less than you deserve.

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