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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