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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