Friday, December 22, 2006

That Cat Is High

It’s funny. That’s how I usually sign off on a letter to somebody when I want to be “pissy.”

“Thank you for your interest in this important matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.”

That basically means “Go pound sand,” or “Bite me.”

And there was no warm-fuzzy at the beginning of the letter FCC Chairman Kevin Martin sent to Representative John Dingell regarding the recent “Report and Order” that decimates local cable franchising. You’d think at the least there would have been a holiday greeting. The letter is so curt you know a lawyer wrote it. The tone is quite defensive which is not altogether surprising since Dingell basically was asking “Where do you get off?” Then again, Dingell gave Martin until January 3rd to respond and the Martin response letter was dated the same day as the Order so I suppose somebody had it in the hopper, knowing they would be questioned.

Then there’s the matter of the “Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” which usually happens and is meant to be a pacifier to all you people out there who are appalled. The FCC Three will give you a chance to formally register your objections, but in truth, it’s a done deal, because no matter how you slice it, three beats two any day of the week.

What I find really amusing in the letter from Martin to Dingell is how many times the Brand X decision is cited. That’s the one where cable modem was declared by the FCC not to be a cable service but instead an information service, and therefore not subject to franchise fees. I get the sense, by the repeated citations, that Martin is threatening Dingell, or anybody else who challenges the Order, with a swift trip to the woodshed. Or maybe it’s just a braggard’s ploy, “Hey, we beat you like a red-headed step-child at the Supreme Court on that cable modem thing and we’ll do it again.” Neener, Neenar.

When the Order came down I really didn’t get that excited. I knew the first "order" of business would be to stay the sucker and I knew all my buddies over there on Connecticut Avenue were in rapture over how fun this one was going to be. There’s about a million buckshot for this one. You got the Communications Act. You got your Contract Law. You got that Imminent Domain ruling. There’s a couple Takings cases out there. You got your States’ Rights. I can even see some EO decisions thrown in the mix.

Meanwhile, on the same day the FCC handed down their order, Milwaukee took at&t to court because at&t says it ain’t offering a cable service, it’s offering an internet service and internet ain’t subject to franchising. The at&t guy, Jeff Bentoff, said at&t was all for “revenue sharing” with the city when a cable customer shifts to their product. Well, isn’t that “white” of him?
Once again, San Antonio and Houston were mentioned as the places where at&t has rolled out. A month ago I spent a couple hours putting in twenty San Antonio zip codes and I couldn’t find at&t “U-Verse” service for any of them. Not to mention the Houston “rocket” situation that took out the fence alongside Mabel’s house.

Jonathan Adelstein wrote a strong dissent to what the FCC majority of three have done.
“In crafting an overly broad and aggressive solution, the majority engages in “legal gymnastics” that would only impress an Olympic judge whose vote has been promised before the competition even begins.”

Mmmm…votes promised? How could that happen?

Adelstein even mentioned the Verizon trucks in his neighborhood rolling out the Fios and how he’s hoping he can convince his wife to switch over. I’m perfectly happy to give her a call if you want, Jonathan, but I’ll wager right now she’s a bit appalled over the holes and the mess and the spray paint up and down the sidewalks, so let’s wait a bit. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it’ll take a while for your neighbor’s grass to look ok again, if ever, and all those street cuts really do add flare, although no appreciation, to the homestead.

I really can’t complain about Verizon, at least they don’t have those stinkin’ whale sized boxes.

So it’s court, court, tort, tort.

Surely Martin knew that or should have known that. But he’s a young guy (happy 40th birthday Kev…sorry I missed it) and he did spend his formative years lobbying for the Bell Boys and who knows, maybe he’s got an early mid-life crisis going on.

Keep your eye on the litigation and stay frosty when Congress starts up. I have a feeling there’s a horse whipping coming.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Duke It Out

I learned a couple new things today. One, David Duke is a champion of free speech. I was thrilled to hear that because us “free speech types” need all the help we can get. When Wolf Blitzer asked him about the Iranian Holocaust Deniers’ Conference, Duke replied he was there because he was all for free speech. Wow, I didn’t know Teheran was the bastion of free speech in the Middle East. He kinda stumbled though when Blitzer asked him if he “hated Jews.” Duke complained about Blitzer’s introduction and went on about his earning a Ph.D., teaching at university (or was it college?) and having a successful book. Blitzer asked him again and it seemed it took him forever to say “No.” But he finally did, so I guess that puts that to rest.

Then I was on this radio show this morning and this woman said that Public access was a “luxury.” I’ve been in a lot of Public access stations and I wouldn’t exactly say they were luxurious. But then I’m thinking that if you’re the president of Iran you consider Public access to be a “luxury,” so I guess that lady has got that going for her, something in common with the president of Iran.

The David Dukes of the world have used their fair share of Public access. So too have the folks on the other side of the fence. What is that Brennan statement? The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech?

Here we are in the land of speech, speech and more speech. Seems everybody’s got something to say and they don’t mince words most times. Yet, the FCC, through its Chairman, Mr. Martin, takes up a rule-making that very well may endanger free speech. Their rule-making, proposing 90 day franchise negotiations, caps at 5%, no build-out requirements by new entrants, has a very real, very tangible and quantifiable, effect on how much speech or whether any speech, on cable systems will happen. At least non-corporate community speech. As you know, there’s plenty of corporate let us take you where we want you to go and tell you what you should be thinking, driving, eating, seeing, smelling, feeling, purging and wanting kind of speech. But it’s that other stuff, the stuff that comes out of passion or concern or silliness, that’s the speech that is under threat.

Somehow I’m not getting the “luxury” quotient behind that kind of speech.

Instead I get the necessary, needed, important, critical, fun, entertaining, sometimes life-saving quotient behind that kind of speech.

And can you imagine cameras in the Islamic Consultative Assembly or as they call it the Majles-e-Shura-ye-Eslami? Beaming to all the citizens, live real-time, down and dirty. Or perhaps educational courses on the Educational access channel, stuff like “Psychology 101” or “Women’s Studies” or “Human Behavior in a Ruthless-Holocaust Denying-Dictatorship”?

Didn’t think so.

So it’s that spider web thing where things are connected and trying to give humungous corporations a free ride whether it’s franchising or media consolidation or net-neutrality, eventually leads us to nowhere fast.

I think every Public access center in this country should call up David Duke and request an interview. I want to hear more. I mean what does this man have a Ph.D. in? Mendacity?

Word to Sepe: Thanks for reminding me...I've been sooooo busy lately...lots of battles out there.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Art of War

We can only speculate as to what Mabel was doing when it happened. Maybe she was washing the dishes or perhaps she was watching Oprah or maybe she was dollin’ herself up for a hot night on the town. Whatever activity she may have been engaged in there was no way she could have braced herself for the explosion that shook her home.

Debris flew in two different directions, out into the street and about fifty feet to the other side of the yard. Good thing Mabel wasn’t out plantin’ petunias she could have been beaned by the flying hot metal coming from the at&t Project Lightspeed installed DSLAM box.

Looking at the pictures of the at&t Lightspeed install in front of Mabel’s house is bad enough. Those boxes I rail against pretty much fill up a side yard between houses. at&t doesn’t know or won’t say what caused the box to blow up, speculating it could have been a gas line or vandalism, somebody’s else’s fault. And while the mention of vandalism could be at&t’s weak attempt to point a finger back at the homeowners, I have to admit if one of those refrigerator cabinets ever showed up in my front yard…let’s just say I am quite handy with an axe.

But more to the point, while the at&t guys came out and picked up the box debris and strung up some ugly orange netting around where the box had been, nobody has been back to explain to Mabel and her husband who’s going to pay for the damage to the house and fence. The irony here is Mabel and her husband probably don’t even want at&t’s service. According to Market, Forrester Research found that only 13% of Americans were looking to switch tv providers.

Maybe those boxes will do better in cooler climates, Mabel lives in Houston and you know how brutal Fall can be in Houston, with average October temperatures ranging in the seventies to middle eighties. Now that at&t has conquered California, the legislature may have to invest in protective headgear for all those people out in Barstow, nasty place to be in July especially when there’s burning shrapnel coming at ya from your front yard.

Makes me wonder if Mabel will be able to get back to a normal life after this incident. When I look at the pictures (see link below to the Light Reading article) I’m not so sure I’d ever want to park my car in the garage again. And I certainly might find myself rushing from the sidewalk into my house as quickly as possible, in a zig-zag fashion to provide a tougher target of opportunity. Seems to me you’d be taking a chance just trying to get the dog out for a breath of fresh air.

There are those of us who have understood for a long time that the telephone guys were waging war on the American people but few, if any, understood the depth of their resolve. They are a sneaky bunch that bear intense scrutiny. A formidable foe that exhibits no shame and now one, we understand, has come to the battlefield fully armed and capable of extensive damage.

To our soldiers in the field, the brave Mabels and their husbands, those who live in at&t or soon to be at&t franchise areas, we salute you! And by way of trying to be helpful, we recommend that you trench the perimeter in case you find yourself having to dive for it.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Conquered By Temptation

I am way too old to be surprised or disappointed, but still I find myself in both predicaments.

The news that Alice Huffman, President of the California chapter of the NAACP, being paid $12,000 per month to lobby on at&t’s behalf in the recent state franchising legislation goes beyond surprise or disappointment straight to shock and disgust. No doubt her title as NAACP head put her in a perfect position to pull down this cash, which she did not earn on behalf of the chapter but on her own behalf. Then again, this payola comes in second to the $160,000 she took on behalf of big tobacco.

I really have no idea who Alice Huffman is, for while she may be big news in California politics, she certainly does not command a national stage. While Alice may be a legend in her own mind, she is what they would call a “small potato” to anyone outside of the Golden State. In fact she is so obscure she doesn’t even Google well. I finally tracked down her picture and she looks nice enough, so I have to conclude she is just greedy.

I have great respect for the NAACP and great admiration for the many accomplishments it has made over the years. However, Alice, through her avarice, has compromised the reputation of the California NAACP and dare I say, the entire NAACP.

Alice says she was assured by at&t that they would build their Project Lightspeed in black neighborhoods. What I want to know is does Alice still believe in Santa Claus? Is she waiting for the Easter Bunny to deliver lovely chocolate delicacies in the Springtime? Does she stay up nights worried about Chupacabra?

Of course what Alice did (I can’t blame the NAACP for something somebody did all by themselves, leadership or no) seems to have been of no consequence when it came to setting up a hearing on media consolidation. There the NAACP was front and center to voice their dismay over the amount of black representation in mainstream or otherwise media. Not to mention the very real problem of women and minority ownership of media.

The irony couldn’t be more palatable.

Alice enthusiastically supports Ma Bell in her bid to wipe out local franchising, weaken PEG access and engage in redlining, the very things that take power out of the hands of the people, especially minorities, and yet, I am sure she has plenty to say about media consolidation and its effects on the black community.

Maybe because nobody from Viacom or Clear Channel have sent her a check yet.

Alice ain’t alone. They are everywhere. Some people think that if Democrats win control of the House and/or the Senate, all these media consolidation and national franchising issues will become history.

But I remember oh so well the public interest set-aside on satellite. Congress sent the FCC a mandate to decide if it was going to be four percent or seven percent public interest set-aside for individual and educational speech on the satellite systems. The FCC, under a Democratically appointed Chair during the Clinton administration ruled “four percent,” the lowest number they could assign.

And more recently, how many Democrats have joined Republicans in an effort to destroy local franchising and PEG?

So it does make sense that groups that are supposed to fight for and protect civil rights would stumble if the number were big enough. Too bad we couldn’t have collectively raised $13,000 a month for Alice to lobby on our behalf. Things might have turned out very differently in California.

see Capitol Weekly and the Los Angeles Times

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006


They invited me to take the “Sex Scandal Quiz.” MSNBC told me, at the hard breaks, that all I had to do was to log on and I could take the quiz that would test my knowledge of sex scandals in Washington over the last decade. Being the Luddite I am, I could only think of one other than the current instant messaging scandal and while that other one was abhorrent, it seems to me it did involve people who were of the age of majority. I felt kinda bad. Seems I haven’t been paying enough attention to sex scandals. I’ve been way too consumed by rogue nation nuclear ambitions.

Meanwhile, mighty mergers have taken place with nary a mention by the daily broadsides.

I think it was in elementary school when I first heard the term “Yellow Journalism.” That was in reference to William Randolph Hearst’s coverage of the Spanish-American War. As I understand it, his newspapers whipped up an American frenzy of support, through specious reporting, for kicking the snot out of Spain. Years ago I met an elderly woman who told me she remembered seeing the headline “To Hell with Spain, Remember the Maine” on her father’s newspaper as he sipped his morning coffee. Somebody even made a movie based on Hearst’s manipulation of the news, I believe it was called “Citizen Kane.”

That was a million years ago. But as they say “Everything old is new again.” So it goes with the “Sex Scandal Quiz.”

With the media it’s always a Three Card Monte. As long as you are looking here you needn’t look there.

What I want to know is whether or not the Run Away Bride will prevail in her lawsuit against her ex-fiancé.

My husband mightily disappointed me last night. He did not know the first name of the now infamous congressman whose emails and instant messages have rocked the free world. He told me it was the least of his worries and he just hadn’t been paying attention. Geesh!

But here I am sweating the details of media. Trying to make sure the evil cable empires make good on their franchises, which they never do. I saw one the other day that laid out support for the access channel, including money and equipment, and sure enough, no such support has been forth coming for the last decade. Nunca. I guess the cable op was way too busy following the sex scandal craze to pay attention and the town was way too small to carry that big stick. Now what’s the solution? Jump up and down, scream, or go to court?

at&t merges with BellSouth with no conditions but the burning question is what exactly did Barbara Streisand say at that concert? Not that it’s inconsequential, Babs is, after all, a seminal figure. It’s just that I calculate sixty dollars per subscriber per month to figure what a cable operator is pulling out of a community. I calculate deliberately low because those numbers are shocking enough on their own. I mean I am talking about video not to mention modem and phone which we all know amps it up to about double that amount even with promotions. Even when I do the sixty buck calculation, people gasp, and yet the rotten bean heads cry poor mouth when it comes to franchise fees and support for PEG.

And if it weren’t for all those folks in local communities putting their collective feet down, demanding channels and support, we’d just have more and more “Sex Scandal Quizzes.” Not that PEG channels are on the cutting edge of journalism but then somebody needs to explain to me what exactly is the cutting edge of journalism?

I don’t know. I am just musing about that old lady who was born late in the 19th century who remembers that headline. It’s always been there, the sensational approach. I guess until Ted Turner got into the game it just wasn’t there 24/7.

So we, on this anemic side of things, get our little channels and show city council meetings and dog fairs and high school marching bands. And we have to fight like gladiators to do so. I’d bet the collective blood pressure of people who do and regulate franchises is somewhere around 200 over 150. But we do it.

Maybe because we get it.

We get that “Sex Scandal Quizzes” aren’t necessarily news, that the real news is what happened at city council last night and how many dogs are in the shelter and who won the marching band competition. The kinda stuff that won’t launch a thousand ships, or turn an election. The kinda stuff that makes life any kind of a thing worth living whatsoever.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Creatures Of The Night

I’ve always been a fan of Vampire movies, which is probably the reason I love watching the antics of the telecom companies. There’s nothing like the excitement of a bunch of bloodsuckers lurking in the shadows that start screaming and flailing when exposed to sunlight.

So it is in Norwood where Verizon is blasting town officials for not giving up control of their rights of way.

“Obviously we want to go where we’re welcomed and wanted,” says Verizon’s Rick Colon.

A bit of Vampire trivia that it took me years to learn:

Vampires have to be invited in. No really. You have to open up the window and invite them in. If you keep the window closed and string lots of garlic around it they can’t come in to suck your blood. However, that is not always an effective tactic since Vampires have the ability to hypnotize you with their beady red eyes.

Vampires also have a sense for flair.

Looking at Norwood Massachusetts one wonders what all the fuss is about. Here’s a town of just over twenty-eight thousand people, or let’s say eight or nine thousand households. They already have two cable providers, Comcast and Norwood Light Broadband. One can assume the residents have access to a satellite provider. In breaking down the numbers, we can estimate that fifteen percent of households are on satellite, or roughly fourteen hundred households. There’s a good possibility that another fifteen percent of the households do not have cable or satellite, so that’s another fourteen hundred.

Taking a wild guess, let’s divide the remaining households between the two existing cable providers, Comcast and Norwood Light Broadband (the municipal provider). That would give each of them around three thousand customers. Now pretend that Verizon can coax away half the households from each of the providers, that would give Verizon about three thousand subscribers and not right away mind you but over a period of a few years.

For this, Verizon is raising a stink?

Town officials say all they want is a level playing field, Verizon needs to follow the franchising process just like everybody else. Makes sense. Verizon counters that the consumers are being “denied the option of having more choice in cable TV.”

To that end, Verizon attempted to get a ruling by the state’s Department of Telecommunications and Energy to shorten the negotiation period for franchises to three months. Over one hundred municipalities objected to this bully tactic. I have advice for Verizon. If they want a three month negotiating period then come to the table with a good contract, which includes, by the way, building out the entire community not just cherry picking the wealthy neighborhoods.

Town officials claim they only want Verizon to play by the rules. But that would require coming out of the shadows and taking a good long look in the mirror. And as you know, Vampires cannot be seen in mirrors nor can they stand the light of day. I have done a great deal of research and have not encountered an organized conspiracy to put a stake through Verizon’s heart. I would say they need to stop showing their fangs every time local government wants them to do the right thing. And actually there is an existing ritual to reverse Vampirism, it’s called an ascertainment process followed by a franchise agreement.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Dog Philosophers

I don’t want to be cynical but I fear I am losing that battle. I went to my trusty source, Wikipedia, to look up the word “cynic” and found that it has a long tradition dating back to the Greeks so that made me feel a little better.

“Cynicism (Greek κυνισμός) was originally the philosophy of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics, founded by Antisthenes. Presently the word generally describes the opinions of individuals who maintain that self-interest is the primary motive of human behavior, and who are disinclined to rely on sincerity, human virtue, or altruism.”

I also saw that the early Cynics were referred to a “Dog Philosophers” and felt I was in good company because I do love dogs. And dogs have been relied on by generations of school children to eat their homework. Which I guess is almost what happened at the FCC when Michael Powell was chairman. Seems there was some big report about media consolidation that was eaten by some dogs.

This was uncovered by Senator Barbara Boxer in a hearing on Tuesday. Somebody slipped her the report in some kind of clandestine operation, maybe it was Richard Armitage trying to atone for outing Valerie Plame.

But back to the report. The report concluded what we already know, that is when gargantuan non-local media companies do news they do way less local reporting than local media companies and they have a tendency to focus on “if it bleeds it leads” kind of news, which in turn leads to a greater level of cynicism throughout society. Why Powell suppressed the report, going to the extreme of having his senior managers order that every last piece of it be destroyed, is beyond me.

He, after all, was just the chairman of the FCC, not the NSA or CIA. Of course he did do a stint as policy advisor to Cheney when he was Secretary of Defense so maybe that’s where he picked it up.

Cynicism is further fueled by the fact that the other side of the “aisle” is equally duplicitous. Note the landslide passage of the statewide franchising bill in California. It wasn’t some nasty Republicans out to promote and protect big corporations who got that bill going, but instead some self-righteous Democrats out to promote and protect big corporations. And it’s been noted here before that Democrats have their hands outstretched just as far as Republicans when it comes to taking donations from big media. This fact makes me grimace when I see media reform types slamming the evil Bush administration when they need look no farther than Bobby Rush of Illinois or Fabian Nunez of California.

Then there’s those astroturf groups that have done a great job of cloaking themselves with legitimacy by cozying up to social justice groups. One, Telecommunications Research and Action Center or TRAC, sister of Alliance for Public Technology, is an offshoot of Issue Dynamics whose clients include deep, deep Bell pockets. They recently co-hosted the Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Luncheon featuring Amy Goodman. Pretty good gig for an organization whose parent company’s purpose is to make sure at&t, BellSouth, SBC and Verizon get what they want at the end of the day, which of course includes national franchising and the loss of PEG channels. Given that Democracy Now! is seen daily on hundreds of Public access channels across the country Goodman might want to investigate TRAC or at the very least not appear at their sponsored events.

But my favorite quote of the week came when Oregon’s Gordon Smith spoke on net neutrality saying “If you say right up front that you can’t charge this or you can’t discriminate as to customers who bring volume, then you take a tremendous incentive away from investment.” I am wondering where Mr. Smith has been all these years as the internet, free and unfettered, has been allowed to grow and grow, and create revenue and jobs, while these “investors” have been sitting on their hands while gleefully redlining neighborhoods. The issue Mr. Smith, is not net-neutrality but triple play, that’s what drives investment and that’s why there is no roll out in Baltimore or Philadelphia.

That’s enough vitriol from me for one week, you want more you’ll have to produce it yourself. Watch C-Span that should get you going. If not, then my suggestion is turn off the tube, turn off the computer, throw the newspaper in the recycle bin, and put on some Norah Jones. Or better yet, spend some philosophical moments with your dog.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Topsy Turvy

Irony is such a fabulous thing. I love it when people say or do things that are grist for making fun of them. Especially when those people are seeking to pull a fast one or are absolutely convinced that the nonsense spewing out of their mouths is sacred gospel.

The California State Senate passed out its bill for statewide video franchising which makes the Public Utilities Commission responsible for issuing franchises to our friends at at&t and Verizon. Good news is that unlike other states that have passed similar legislation, this doesn’t take effect until January 1, 2008. It’s a bizarre lag time given that one wouldn’t imagine the bell boys will take up twiddling their thumbs for almost a year and half waiting for their state franchises. Instead, it will be business as usual going community to community. Makes me wonder what that number for local franchises will be on December 31, 2007, especially given that at&t still hasn’t figured out how to do what it says it wants to do.

When pressed at the National Association of Officers and Advisors conference in Orlando last week, a one Mr. Howard Peak, said that at&t had just finished some trials in San Antonio and had some more “testing” to do before they would be ready to roll out there. He speculated that they could be ready by end of year. Then he mentioned they were going to do the same kind of deal in Houston and might be ready for a full blown video service by end of ’07.

He also said, and I quote, in response to how they were going to deliver Public, Educational and Government access programming over their system:

“Our technology is very much evolving for the whole system. It’s a new thing for us, new protocol, new technology. We’re trying to match our capabilities to what they want to do.”

“Evolving,” was said a couple more times.

So for all the brouhaha and the $18 million spent just in California on just one bill (not to mention the $500,000 or so in campaign contributions) there really is no “there” there because “there” is still evolving.

Makes you wonder why the California legislature got their pants on fire and shoved this tripe down the Golden State citizen’s throats. Ooops! I forgot, there was a lot of dinero being spread around.

Megan Taylor of the League of California Cities said their amendments were met with “no” as the legislative offices were instructed to say by at&t. Obviously a puppet act that would make Charlie McCarthy proud.

Then it looks as though the Public Utilities Commission is gonna need to hire some two hundred warm bodies to fill seats up there in San Fran. Working for Commission President Michael Peevey, the new hires will have to sort through all the complaints. Peevey has allowed that the PUC isn’t so stellar in that regard. When asked how they handle the volume of just utility complaints, he said:

“With difficulty. We get besieged.”

When asked about the Commission’s five year long debate on a consumer bill of rights for telecom, Peevey said “A bill of rights is a nice and clever term” and went on to say “I'm intrigued by that, but I'll tell you why I'm doubtful that will work. Some companies could implement certain aspects of it by a date, say May 1, and others couldn't. That was why I dissented on this originally.”

I guess answering the phones, delivering a reliable signal, showing up on time for installations, properly installing the equipment and giving prompt rebates is way too much to ask some companies to do.

Peevey is probably just keen to work for given he holds himself to an exacting standard that rated him an “F-“ from the Utility Consumers Action Network. They noted he doesn’t play well with others and needs constant supervision.

The height of irony in the California bill is, like the others, there are no build out requirements. What makes this wildly amusing is that the upscale Marin and Orange County neighborhoods at&t so eagerly wants to build in will be the recipients of those blight producing, graffiti attracting, DSLAM boxes. Imagine driving your Benz down the driveway of your two million dollar home that you have meticulously landscaped to be aesthetically worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest and sitting right next to your custom designed mail receptacle is a huge white albatross whose only function is to give you and a couple of your neighbors service that is inferior to the cable service you already had without the offensive metallic eyesore.

This may be one of the very rare times poor people have actually made out better than their wealthy counterparts.

My favorite current photo of the boxes is #9 being sported by Light Reading. Here’s the link:

Yes, everybody at all levels of government have done a smashing job of wrapping up the summer. Now they can reward themselves with a few weeks of gleeful campaigning, having conducted a fait accompli in true bipartisan spirit. Kenneth P. McNeely, Western region president for at&t noted that “Today’s Senate vote reaffirms that both Democrat and Republicans alike support the benefits of video competition.”

Makes you wonder, when it comes to corporate giveaways, if it’s even worth going to the polls.

Here's a shout out to all the NATOA and Alliance folks who worked hard to get amendments in the crappy piece of legislation to secure and protect PEG. I am amazed at how far the legislation came and certainly is the result of an effort worthy of enthusiastic applause!

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Drama Queens

When you’re young, your lover can greatly upset and bewilder you by storming out the door. But as you get old and cranky, if your lover pulls that stunt the reaction becomes “Well, try not to let the door hit ya. By the way, have you seen the remote control?”

Verizon’s behavior in Montgomery County and New Hampshire remind me of that high strung fella I dated for a while. Everything was always drama. We couldn’t just disagree we had to have a huge fight. He would storm around waving his arms, rolling his eyes, making demands and finally I got tired of it. I mean I am the one with the degree in theatre and he made Gloria Swanson look like a librarian.

It is documented that Verizon did not negotiate in good faith with Montgomery County.[1] Meetings were requested and ignored, promises were made and broken. Not by the County mind you, but by Verizon. Months dragged on with the County sending various letters reminding Verizon to submit documents. Almost a year into the talks Verizon notified the County that they had switched out the negotiating team, meaning what I am not sure. Then at the end of June, out of the blue, the big V files suit against the County in federal court.

"Verizon regrets having to take this step, but the county's unlawful demands leave us no other choice," said John P. Frantz, Verizon vice president and associate general counsel, who is leading the company's legal team on the case. "We would prefer to reach agreement on a franchise that would offer Montgomery County consumers more choice for their cable services, but after a year of essentially fruitless negotiations, we are at an impasse."

The suit claimed not only anti-trust violations but also First Amendment transgressions.

Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Frantz?

The federal judge denied Verizon an injunction and ordered the parties to mediation.

While this is going on, Verizon has abruptly pulled out of New Hampshire.

Spokesperson Jill Wurm (love that name, are you a conqueror, Ms. Wurm?) says they took their equipment and franchise negotiators to New Jersey to get their statewide franchise, so there! It is reported that last spring Verizon was given thirty days to submit a franchise to Salem and it never did. Maybe they were just way too busy swooning and getting the vapors to file their run of the mill proposal we’ve seen in countless communities across this country.

Ms. Wurm also allowed that the company hadn’t called for statewide franchising in New Hampshire just yet.

“We have not filed any legislation specific to that in New Hampshire just yet.”

Curious, I didn’t realize that Verizon held a seat in the New Hampshire legislature. I also didn’t realize that they were the ones actually filing legislation here and there. I was under the mistaken impression they had namby-pamby lackies loosely known as legislators at their beck and call and on temporary payroll.

In the middle of the country, not to be outdone, at&t made a presentation to the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities. During which company spokesmen claimed that they are seeking “competitive video agreements” rather than cable franchises because they are not offering video they are offering video. Very different stuff.

One of the gents said he didn’t think the boxes were extraordinarily humungous. That assertion gives me a wild urge to get two green refrigerators and set them on his front lawn and see how he likes it. If anybody can get me Mike Klasen’s home address I’ll put in a call to a used appliance store.

Mr. Klasen also said they want to digitize Public, Educational and Government access television and put it out over the internet.

“It takes a re-orientation of ‘what does community access mean?’ in our system versus a conventional cable network.”

Why does Mr. Klasen’s “re-orientation” program give me hallucinations of little red books and the Gang of Four? Ever notice how when people really want to pull a fast one they contend it’s your thinking that has to change?

Here’s the classic dramatic demand people…you simply must suspend your disbelief!

Curtain up, light the lights, step, vault, change. Be very careful not to upstage these grand dams, because if you do, you could land yourself in court or stand helpless as they exit stage right or get digitized out of existence. And if you have to be caught up in these performances be sure to have plenty of eggs and tomatoes on hand and be sure to have your pitching arm ready to go.

[1] See FCC Ex-parte filing, March 17, 2006, Miller Van Eaton.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Pixelate This

I don’t spend much time weighing in on what PBS does or does not do. Only time I’ve ever really cared is when PBS (or various affiliated PBS type groups) tried to steal local access channels. Bad girl that I am, I think PBS is mostly irrelevant.

However, that said, I find the FCC fining of PBS affiliates for two words used in a documentary (Martin Scorsese’s “The Blues”) shown before 10 p.m. to be bullshit. Oooops! Was that one of the words?

I guess everything depends on your definition of obscenity. For myself, I stand accused and convicted of periodically having a foul mouth. I got it righteously from my mother. Church going saint that she was, when pissed off, she could swear like a sailor. Foul words don’t bother me unless they’re used gratuitously, peppered into the language for just no good reason at all or simply for shock value. But when you’re trying to tell a compelling story or get somebody to pay attention, I think blue words as nouns or adjectives can be necessary.

When Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi stepped on stage and uttered “Merde!” all of Paris went into a tail spin. That utterance was just the beginning of the obscenity the theater goers would be subjected to that evening, because the real obscenity was the violence and the disregard for humanity that King Ubu carried out in his quest for power. That “Merde!” summed up the man.

So we don’t want the kiddies to hear jazz musicians saying something not so nice but we are perfectly willing to cram their little mouths with Coco-Puffs and Happy Meals. We’re also quite enamored with having little girls dress like Brittany Spears and titillating little boys with Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. And we can’t wait to sell them all the Barney and Big Bird accessories their parent’s can’t or shouldn’t afford.

Meanwhile you gotta pixelate Jazz musicians lips (bleeping isn’t enough) because Susie or Johnny might be adept lip readers. And the Congress upped the ante, after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, to a maximum of $325,000 per word that broadcasters can be fined.

“Paralyzing,” is how Paula Kreger, Public Broadcasting’s Service chief described it.

Damn straight Paula.

Word to the FCC. Whoever said that kids had a right to stay up past nine p.m. watching t.v. anyway? If the good stuff, like documentaries on Jazz musicians, has to wait until after 10 p.m. then you ain’t getting me cause I gotta go to bed before then and I don’t have TiVo.

All this extreme reaction to language doesn’t do anything to eliminate the overt violence and sexuality children are exposed to every day. There are Victoria Secrets commercials shown in the middle of the day that are just this side of Behind the Green Door. Last I looked, CSI and Law and Order start at about six p.m. I want to do a study to find out how many kids get a dose of Maury Povich during the day and come away thinking that everybody’s got two or three “Baby’s Mommas” or that sleeping with your father-in-law is perfectly acceptable social behavior.

More than anything else, this pixelating of mouths and freaking out over a couple words teaches our children that hypocrisy is standard operating procedure.

“You can do it Susie, just don’t talk about it.”

Morality is not about words, morality is about behavior. Which also brings me back to Janet Jackson. Having your boobie pop out during a half-time show at the Super Bowl is an “oops” moment but it is not immoral. Selling beer like it’s soda pop for four straight hours, during that same Super Bowl, is not an “oops” it’s immoral. Broadcasting the most outrageous behavior of degenerates at the top of every news cast, as if it were really news, and non-stop day and night through reality shows, is immoral. Having a couple old guys throw out a couple three or four letter words while recounting their lives as musicians is not immoral. Fining a PBS affiliate up to $325,000 dollars per word is immoral and pretty much every decision the FCC has made over the last five or so years has been immoral.

So if the FCC or Congress want to have a better picture of what is or what is not obscene or immoral, my suggestion is they take a good hard look in the mirror and adjust the fines accordingly.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Down On The Farm

I’ve been volunteering lately at a horse rescue farm. Something I thought about for two years and finally did. It’s just once a week for three hours but it gets me out from behind the computer and the desk into the open air, sort of. A good chunk of that time is spent mucking out stalls and paddocks. I fill up huge plastic buckets with the stuff and carry it to a large dumpster; the process is helping me develop muscles. I also learned how to pick a horse’s hooves the other day which was somewhat exhilarating and scary.

I come home smelling like horse and my dog hasn’t quite figured it out. Somebody asked me if I minded raking the stalls and I said “Well, no. I just want to do whatever it is they need me to do.” Besides, doing politics for years has made me a bit immune to the smell of manure. And trust me on this, the horses’ poo-poo smells a heck of a lot better than most of that stench coming from Capitol Hill.

Joe Barton (R-TX) has allowed that it don’t look so good for a telecom bill passing this year. Boo-hoo. Meanwhile Ted Stevens (R-AK) has shown himself for the doddering old fool that he is comparing the net to dump trucks and tubes. Coincidentally none of this has cured my problem of swinging cable lines in the neighborhood.

Yes it’s day 53 and still no burial of the lines.

I have called Verizon about a million times and Comcast too. On one phone call to Comcast I asked to speak to a supervisor and the little jerk on the other end of the phone hung up on me. Good thing the big telcos have regionalized their call centers otherwise I might have driven to my local Comcast office and slapped the stuffing out of that moron. I also called the county and the county faxed my pictures to Verizon and Comcast a couple weeks ago. I called the county again and they must have said exactly the right thing to Comi-Zon because two guys representing their respective companies showed up at my door yesterday.

The first guy, wearing a lovely red embroidered CWA polo shirt (Verizon of course, not Comcast) tried to tell me that stringing the cable lines through the trees was absolutely normal. I said “Hold up Gus! Stringing it from pole to pole might be S.O.P. but we don’t have above ground utility poles here and trees aren’t poles.” Then he said that it was perfectly within National Electrical Safety Code if the situation was “temporary” which he said it was. I asked him what’s so “temporary” about almost two months. He said that they had done everything they could to make the situation “safe.” I let him know that my husband tripped over the damn cable two days after the creative install. He talked a lot about contractors and all the tickets he had to respond to, saying he was putting two to three hundred miles on his truck a day. He said that Verizon was having a hard time getting reliable help. Meanwhile my neighborhood with its strict village rules that don’t allow you to put up a bird bath without board consent looks like a stinking war zone with all the digging, paint sprays and cable dangling here and there. He left with a lot of promises dribbling from his lips reminding me of the guy who takes your number and says he will call…but never does.

The Comcast guy came late in the day and boy did he have an attitude. He immediately blamed Verizon. I told him the cable had been laying in the gutter since last September, long before Verizon came through but he just kept saying “Verizon, Verizon” over and over like he was in a trance. I mentioned that I was astounded that it took so long with me and various neighbors calling for ten months, he used the word “temporary” just like the first guy did, although it did strike me that this fellow wasn’t wearing a union shirt. I said “I would think Comcast would be concerned about the open boxes and maybe some kid sticking his finger in there.” He said that it wasn’t much of an electrical charge (no, I am not making this up).

It was interesting that within an hour there were guys digging the heck out of the right-of-way to bury the Comcast cable. We get no action for ten months, then suddenly Mr. Personality drops by and badda-bing, badda-boom, the cones go up, the street pretty much gets shut down and the dirt is flying like they’re racing the clock. No utility markers, just bores and shovels going to town. Makes me think that Comcast has adopted Verizon’s M-O, dig, dig, dig, who cares what you hit.

I am curious as to what our gal at the county said to these knuckleheads to finally get some action. And I did receive a letter from the FCC the other day about my cable modem complaint that was filed some months ago. They said that they would keep the file open for six months and if I wasn’t satisfied by what the provider did to ameliorate the situation I was perfectly welcome to file a “formal complaint.” Until the letter I hadn’t realized that my original complaint to the FCC was “informal” like some brief exchange between old friends. For some bizarre reason I thought going to the federal agency that sort of regulates telecommunications and filling out the paperwork was “formally” complaining.

I’m looking forward to next week when I can go out to the farm and see the horsies. It is hard work but it’s rewarding and because it’s a horse farm there are no bulls on the premises so it’s a completely different type of shoveling experience.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Way of the World

The chemical plant sits smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood. So close it’s as if my neighbors across the street are the plant. Its purpose is to take toxic chemicals and neutralize them and then pump the neutralized byproduct into the sewage system. It doesn’t function willy-nilly, the Environmental Protection Agency keeps a stern eye on the plant and there are reams of reports about its operations. But if I were living in that neighborhood I’m not sure I could sleep at night.

Large tanker trucks run all day and night through the neighborhood, through regular everyday neighborhood streets. They bring chemicals from all over. I even read a report about how the Indiana Department of Homeland Security monitored chemicals from Indiana that were delivered to the plant. A large brouhaha broke out a couple years ago when it was learned that the plant was securing a contract with the Department of the Army to neutralize VX. Citizen activists rallied the community and defeated the plan.

I wondered why people moved into the neighborhood next to the plant and then I learned that the plant had moved in on them a decade or so ago. They could of course move out if they had the money but these people are poor white Appalachia types. It’s the kind of neighborhood where the sheriff has his hands full just trying to keep up with the meth labs and any house that is unoccupied for any length of time finds its aluminum siding being brazenly torn off to be sold at recycle.

It’s not even really the ground zero of the plant that is worrisome. It’s the tanker trucks running up and down the highway that borders the town. Accidents do happen, as we’ve seen elsewhere and people may need to evacuate or at the least receive instruction to close all doors and windows and stay inside.

The town does have a government channel, but a couple years ago during the upgrade of the cable system they somehow lost the ability to post bulletin board messages from the town offices. Now they have to fax over messages to the folks at the headend and rely on them to post them. Seems the cable staff make lots of spelling errors and run old, outdated messages even after they’ve been asked to remove them.

There is no local newspaper, no town radio station and the only time they get covered by broadcast stations is when something bad happens.

They do have a coordinated emergency plan and the town takes great pride in its fire department. But the question remains, if something happens, say a chlorine spill, how will they get the word out to the residents? Sure the broadcast stations would be eager to cover the story, but the truth is, day or night, most people aren’t watching broadcast. Most people are spread out over those sixty to one hundred channels watching American Idol or NASCAR or Leave it to Beaver re-runs.

It is my plan to negotiate an Emergency Alert System with the cable operator. Simply, should something happen, the Fire Chief is empowered to declare an emergency and have the cable operator run a crawl on all the channels instructing people to tune in to the government channel for information. To make this work, we’d need at least one camera at the town offices so they could go live. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, given that in a town of less than 4,000 people the cable operator takes out about a million dollars a year in revenue. That amount will only grow as more people come online, pick up broadband and switch their phone service.

Of course now, I am unsure any of that is going to happen with national franchising. Sure the town might get five percent, which is an improvement over what they have now and they might get that one percent PEG fee, but the cable operator is not going to provide the town with a way to communicate during a critical emergency out of the goodness of his or her heart. And federal law won’t make them do it. I was pretty confident we could do some horse trading and I could make it happen.

Nor will this town enjoy the benefits of competition and lower cable bills. It’s mostly a depressed area with its share of poor blacks who live in a mirror image neighborhood on the other side of town. These are not the “high value” customers we’ve heard so much about.

I was asked recently how much of my business will go away with national franchising, at present it’s only fifteen percent, I’ve been fortunate to build a consulting business with a great deal of diversification. National franchising doesn’t keep me up at night because I’m worried about my pocket book; I’ve got plenty of money.

What does bother me is my obsession with the towns and people I have worked with. One had eight percent unemployment and their main industry, auto parts manufacturing, was evaporating before their eyes. It was imperative that they build a technology infrastructure in order to attract new business and re-train factory workers to move into a new economy. They also had a CSX rail line that ran straight through the middle of town, ferrying all manner of payload including chemicals. One had a Public access channel in name only that was being held hostage by the cable operator. The thought was to combine Public access with Government access, obtain a facility and adequate equipment. That one percent PEG fee might cover the needs of Government access but it certainly won’t be sufficient for Public access, and there’s also an Educational access channel over at the high school that will need to share that fund.

So I sit and wait and watch the news and think about poor people and chemical plants and mostly I feel completely disgusted. The people I have broken bread with, the people in the neighborhoods where I have driven and walked, the people who are desparate to tell their stories and move their communities past inertia, are being completely ignored. But I suppose that's just the way of the world and I've been told there's nothing any of us can do about it.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Aerial Antics

I once had a drama teacher who told me that in comedy, timing is everything. Which is why I find Verizon’s antics so amusing. It’s that perfect sense of timing they possess.

Three days after the House passed their nefarious COPE bill, a group of us went to the Hill to talk to a Senate office. When I came home, my husband took me out into the driveway, pointed upward and said “Look.” Above my head, swinging like a Wallenda, was Verizon cable strung through the trees. Not just one tree mind you, but coming from a box two doors down, snaking through the trees around to the side of my neighbor’s house. Maybe 400 or so feet of cable suspended twenty five feet in the air, gently ever so gently.

The origination point, two doors down, came up out of the Verizon box, laid sloppily on the sidewalk and began its momentous ascent up a small tree where it was secured with black electrical tape. The aerial “install” had happened three days earlier but we hadn’t noticed it until my husband almost tripped on the cable while walking the dog.

At first I stared in disbelief. Then I howled with laughter. There were so many elements to be found amusing, among them the infamous use of black electrical tape. How many times have I been in conversation with regulators and the subject of Verizon’s use of black electrical tape comes up.

Cut an incumbent’s cable? Splice it with black electrical tape.

Cut a gas line? Wrap it with black electrical tape.

Their prolific use of black electrical tape makes me think somebody at Verizon must have found an irresistible deal at Sam’s Club.

More amusing was that only a couple hours earlier at the Senator’s office, person after person relayed various violations committed during Verizon’s deployment, including leaving open trenches that resulted in injury to both man and beast. And here I was staring at exactly what we had been talking about, the central reason behind the need to retain local control of franchising.

Lest the incumbents are feeling smug, farther down my street is a Comcast cable about 100 feet long that has been laying in the gutter for over six months. The boxes are not closed and even though Comcast covered the cable that crosses the sidewalk with a rubber strip, it’s beginning to come up and poses a hazard to dog walkers, skateboarders and children on tricycles.

While talking to my neighbor whose tree has been decorated with the cable and tape, she tells me another story perhaps more shocking. Seems the Verizon people came around after they did the initial install going door to door to drum up business. She told the man that she didn’t make such decisions without consulting her husband and that her husband was in another state attending to his dying father. The Verizon guy looked at her and asked “How long will that take?”

Needless to say Comcast won’t be losing a customer.

So what happens now with national franchising? We all get to go to the FCC to complain. I recently called the FCC about a cable modem complaint, was told they don’t regulate cable modem and my only recourse should the operator not fix the problem was to hire a lawyer.

I don’t mind hiring a lawyer for things like property disputes, divorces or copyright infringement, but it seems weird to hire a lawyer because I can’t get the cable operator to remove a couple bucks off my bill or make sure I can get my HDTV.

The cable is still swinging gracefully in the elms and the oaks and the pine trees. I’ll be making phone calls today to see how to get this resolved. Either that or I guess I could figure out some way to string lights on it to bring a bit of festivity to the neighborhood.

See for yourself pics of the lovely trees!

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Friday, June 09, 2006

No More Stinkin Moral Compasses!

Hilda Solis (D-CA 32nd) has always been one of my favorite people. I watched her enter politics while living in La Puente, California. She had an office about half a mile from my house. When Hilda said she would do something, she did it. She is sweet, passionate and really cares. Her testimony during the COPE debate yesterday almost moved me to tears. And it was especially fitting given that it came on the heels of Bobby Rush’s (D-IL 1st) sickening performance and his ham handed race card tactics.

Of course, Hilda’s being honest is a liability when it comes to fundraising. She only got $6,000 from at&t during the 2006 cycle and nothing from any of the telecoms before that time. As compared to Bobby Rush’s infamous one million dollar donation from SBC to a community center named after himself. Added to that, at&t is Rush’s top contributor for the 2006 cycle. I guess Rush wouldn’t know the definition of honesty if it crawled up his slimy backside.

It just shows to go ya that money talks and fecal matter walks.

The fact that the House of Representatives royally screwed the American public yesterday is not something the media appears to be interested in. Only one reporter was standing around after the vote to capture the story. Drew Clark from the National Journal got a few juicy quotes out of Barton as he exited triumphant. My favorite was on Universal Service.

“We will work with Sen. Stevens, and we will find a compromise that satisfies most of the parties. I fundamentally disagree that we should saddle a new service with a fee that in the Internet era makes no sense. Why put a fee that was based on a monopoly service? With wireless and the Internet, you don't need that model. We can give them the functionality of the Universal Service Fund without given them regulation.”

Functionality of the Universal Service Fund?

Somebody ‘splain that Lucy.

How do you have the “functionality of the Universal Service Fund” when there is no “fund.”

And how do you have “functionality” when you can’t even pass legislation that prevents redlining? I mean wasn’t that part of the whole Universal Service idea in the first place, to address the cherry picking and rural snubbing by the phone companies? Doesn’t Barton understand that it’s not just about applications but also about hard wiring? Even with “wireless” at some point somebody somewhere at some time has to build a wire or put up a tower and provide some infrastructure.

So now there’s the Senate. I get the rare privilege of noting that my two Senators, Mikulski and Sarbanes (Maryland) show no reported income from the telcos. At least that will be a good door opener. But Stevens of Alaska saw his wallet fattened by $59,050 by Verizon and at&t in the 2006 cycle, an increase of $35,500 over 2004. This amount of telephone love could prove difficult in the preservation of the Universal Service Fund or net neutrality or funding for access centers.

But hey! It’s just great that Congress is doing something for the American voter. I mean they really fell down on the job when they couldn’t even pass a Constitutional Amendment to prevent all those gays from getting married. And they probably won’t be able to muster enough votes on their regurgitated Flag Burning Amendment coming up in the next couple of weeks. They got to be able to go back to the voters and give them something for goodness sake, it might as well be the destruction of the internet and jelly donuts for corporate giants.

After all individual morality just isn’t as important as say, individual morality. Not when there’s a pocket to be lined or picked.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Catch 475

He was right. It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything. To say I’ve been extremely busy is not exactly painting the correct picture, I have been wicked busy. But added to that was my inability to find anything amusing about what is going on. So it was good that he nagged me.

I decided to figure out if I could file a cable modem complaint on the FCC’s website. Being able to get assistance on cable modem problems goes to the heart of the national franchising debacle. The FCC is in charge of cable modem customer service and if national video franchising gets passed, they will also be in charge of video customer service.

The FCC says it got 163 cable modem complaints in 2005. This number greatly puzzled me since I am quite positive there are more than 163 cable modem subscribers in this country. So I went to the FCC website and dummied up a complaint. I did feel some hesitation about it because I didn’t want Comcast coming back and calling me a liar, but it wasn’t really a lie it was empirical research. I’m sure Comcast understands that stretching the truth to protect your interests is not exactly a lie, it’s politics.

You have to scroll down the FCC homepage to find the Consumer Center, it’s a couple of clicks below “Modernize the FCC” where they list the following key objective: “Structure the FCC so that it can flexibly respond to Congress, consumers, and the communications industries in a timely manner.”

I sure am glad they’re thinking about modernization and re-structuring because they certainly will need to do some organizational tweaking to manage those national franchises.
Once I found the “Filing Complaints” link I clicked on it and up popped a page that said “Filing a Complaint With The FCC is Easy.” I was given several options, I chose to file “Electronically” using General Complaint FCC Form 475. Instructions are as follows:

“This form can only be used for complaints related to: 1) wireless and wireline telecommunication services; 2) non-programming related cable, broadcasting and satellite services; and 3) communications accessibility issues. For example, use Form 475 for general telephone complaints such as billing disputes, cramming, telephone company advertising practices, paging services, unsolicited telephone marketing calls and unwanted faxes, and accessibility by persons with disabilities to telecommunications equipment and services. If you are complaining that your telephone company was changed to another telephone company without your permission (SLAMMING), you must use Form 501 to file the complaint. If you are complaining about the allegedly obscene, profane, or indecent content of a radio or television program, you must use Form 475B.

Note the telephone centric nature of these instructions. It’s been four years since the FCC classified cable modem as an information service and yet there is no specific instruction or specific form for filing a cable modem complaint. In fact, there is no specific instruction for complaints on accessibility issues for disabled consumers. The form is quite specific for telephone billing, telemarketing and unsolicited faxes.

Being an educated consumer, I blew past these options and went directly to the box where you could just write your complaint.

Briefly describe your complaint and include the following information in your statement, if applicable:
account number(s) involved with your complaint if that number is different than your telephone number;
date(s) of the telephone bill involved with your complaint;
the resolution you are seeking.

I wrote that my cable modem goes in and out and I have complained several times but it still hasn’t been resolved. Thinking I had all the necessary information included I hit submit. To which a message came up as follows:

Please enter telephone service problem number

It irked me a bit given that I wasn’t complaining about my telephone service but I couldn’t submit the complaint without entering a telephone service problem number. That exacerbates things given my telephone service is with Verizon and my cable modem is with Comcast. So which telecom company does the FCC investigate? I entered my number and once again hit submit.

This time a message popped up telling me I had to choose either a “residential” option or a “business” option or once again I wouldn’t be able to submit. Fine! I chose the residential option. By this time I was more than a little irritated with Form 475. I hit submit again and I got the following:

Filing for: Bunnie Riedel has been received by the FCC
Thanks for your information. When inquiring about your complaint, be sure to reference the following confirmation number:
FORM475: 06-W11836004
Additionally, be sure to mention that you filed this complaint over the internet. Finally, the carrier will have 30-45 days to respond to this complaint.

Hold up the bus Gus! The carrier will have 30-45 days to respond? But if my cable modem isn’t working now I can’t wait 30-45 days for resolution, I am running a business after all!

I looked around and found you can file a complaint without using Form 475, all you have to do is send an email to:

Send General and Indecency complaints to
Send Slamming complaints to

Or you can pick up the phone and call. After I got through five minutes (yes I timed it) of messages welcoming me, telling me the call might be monitored, giving me information about the Hurricane Katrina wireless universal service fund, asking if I was a state or local emergency services agency, giving me an option if I had applied for a license, I found I could get all other services by pressing 4.

The #4 option included the do not call registry, telephone related issues, slamming cramming, universal service fund and access charges, interference to home entertainment electronic equipment, how to order forms, the status of my FCC license and whether or not I was a member of the press. Once through that I could hit zero for the next “Specialist.”

A lovely lady answered the phone and I asked “Is this where I file a cable modem complaint?”

She said “We don’t regulate cable modem. You can file a complaint and we will forward it to the carrier.”

“Well what should I do if they don’t fix the problem?”

She said “You can take legal action. I would advise you to contact a lawyer.”

Then she let me know that “Filing a Complaint With The FCC is Easy” all I had to do was go to their website and find Form 475.

Given that the first words out of the “Specialist’s” mouth were “We don’t regulate cable modem” I now suspect that those 163 people who actually did file a complaint were just really the persistent types. I’d like to meet some of those people and find out if their “carrier” did get back to them within 30-45 days. And if so, were their complaints resolved or did they heed the advice of the “Specialist” and get themselves a lawyer? Are they now in court and how is that going?

The National Association of Officers and Advisors (NATOA) did a survey of just 100 of its members and found in one year (2005) they had received 34,000 complaints regarding cable service. Of these 34,000 I have no doubt there were plenty that were cable modem even though the FCC stripped the ability of the local government to regulate cable modem over four years ago.

This begs the question, when national franchising legislation gets passed and the modernized FCC takes over, will they train their “Specialists” to say “We don’t regulate cable services. You might want get a lawyer and take legal action.”

And if that’s the case there sure will be a heck of a lot of lawyers needed, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t rethink that law degree thing.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Vulgar Details

Years ago a friend of mine made some biscuits. They looked really terrific when he placed them on the table, hot and steamy. Eagerly I buttered one up and bit into it with glee. Next thing I knew I was spitting it out. See he had read the recipe wrong, it called for three teaspoons of baking soda, he had put in three tablespoons of baking soda. All the lovely biscuits met their end in the trash.

It’s those details that will get ya every time and leave a lousy taste in your mouth no matter how much you butter them up.

Like the Communications, Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006 or COPE. It sounds like it could be a really good deal for some Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access centers and the communities in which they serve. The bill says local government will get a 5% fee from the national franchise plus a 1% fee to go directly to PEG. There are indeed towns that don’t get a full 5% and there are indeed PEG operations that receive no grants or pass-throughs, and certain state legislation recently passed has taken a bite out of those that do. But, and it’s a big but, that 5% will not be a full 5% once all the exclusions are included.

Like On-Demand for instance, a rapidly growing revenue stream for the cable ops.

Looming in this discussion is the matter of bundled services. If the cable operator provides caller i.d. through your television set can he claim that the money he charges for caller i.d. be deducted from the money he charges for video delivery and thereby instead of it being 5% of $50 per month, it is now 5% of $42 a month because he charges $8 for caller i.d.? Remember anything having to do with telephony is not a video service and therefore not subject to the 5%.

I’ve already been engaged in local communities where the cable operator has its own definition of gross receipts. Oops! We forgot advertising or home shopping! Well, we never meant to pay on installation and you can’t say that’s part of our gross receipts.

Never mind the frequency at which cable operators underpay and don’t make up the deficiency until a franchise fee review has been done and even then they put up a stink. I know one community where they found an $80,000 shortfall and Time Warner says it’s only a $10,000 shortfall. Now what? Guess you’ll have to go to the FCC to get a decision. Holding your breath is not a good idea given the FCC has absolutely no experience in franchise fee reviews. Or maybe the FCC is going to expand its building at the Portals to put in a whole new accounting division. And when it comes down to a definition debate you can bet Verizon will have already beaten locals to the punch with sweet nothings whispered into the ears of the FCC staffers. But even if they don’t the bill contains no audit power for local government.


The 1% sounds really cool if you’re getting nothing. However, there are plenty of communities that have a dollar or more being collected for PEG support. 1% would slash their PEG funding in half or even by two-thirds. Even t’were the PEGs to get their 1% they may be faced with local government who now says “Hey…you got your funding, you don’t need anything from us. And besides our revenues are down because that national 5% wasn’t really 5% after all.”

It’s the vulgar details that eventually get us all. Taking the 5% and 1% at face value is a losing proposition. COPE is a biscuit that ain’t worth eating and needs to be trashed, no amount of butter or jam or sugar will make it go down right and at the end of the day, local communities and PEG access will be left with a sour stomach.

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) has put out an action alert on COPE. Go to click on Policy/Advocacy. You will see their action alert, talking points by the municipal associations and a list of congressional contacts.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Project Lights Out

I grew up terribly disadvantaged. We had only three or four tv channels, no video games and certainly not a cell phone. Somehow we managed to have fun playing with dolls or jacks or any number of simple toys. There were a couple of games called “Telephone.” In one you sat around in a circle and whispered a common phrase into the ear of the person next to you and they whispered it as they heard it to the person next to them and so on and so on. By the time the phrase got back to you and you said it out loud it was completely different than what you had said in the first place. That game was good for a lot of laughs. The other “Telephone” game was the one where you tied two tin cans together with a length of twine and then tried to talk to each other as if you were on the telephone.

The second game was really low technology because as anyone knows twine is not really a good conduit for sound just as twisted copper wire is not a good conduit for rocket speed broadband delivery.

None of that seems to bother at&t or BellSouth though. They’re touting their Project Light Speed like it’s manna from heaven. According to them they’re rolling out fiber to compete with the cable guys but of course it’s only fiber to three thousand feet from the premises and the rest is plan old twisted copper wire, an enhanced DSL if you please. That’s kinda like trying to race a Lamborghini with two flat tires.

How it works is they connect fiber from their plant to humungous boxes, and I mean humungous. One of these boxes (DSL access modules or DSLAMS) measures 4x5x2 and when they combine them you get an even bigger box! These DSLAMS will be stationed at various points throughout the neighborhood to get them within the three thousand foot of the home requirement. at&t is aggressively courting San Francisco but one wonders where exactly will they put these boxes given the topography of San Francisco and the density of the housing, much of which without actual yards. I suppose the sidewalks will do just fine, people can step out into the street to get around them.

Once the box is in place they will connect the homes to this node with the copper wire. Homeowners will be able to access video programming a whole new way by selecting the channel, sending a signal up the copper wire through the box back to the central office to servers (yes, servers) and voila! programming will appear on the tv screen, assuming those servers don’t go down as servers are wont to do.

The speeds for data will be one to six Mbps downstream and a whopping one Mbps upstream, thus the “enhanced DSL” label. And unlike cable and FTTP that delivers all channels simultaneously, only a few channels will be available at once on this architecture. Oh and by the way, don’t have too many tv’s pulling down programming all at once it could put a strain on the system.

I applaud at&t for taking yet another run at the cable business but wonder why they have to completely disintegrate local government franchising so they can roll out a product that is already obsolete before they’ve thrown their first switch?

During a panel discussion I moderated yesterday at the South Eastern Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA) conference, I asked the panelists to tell the audience what national franchising would do for them. The very nice gentleman from BellSouth said “This is the future for BellSouth.” He then went on to explain that people were moving from wireline to wireless, the cable industry had launched their triple play of voice, video and data and that they had lost five percent of their customers in the last year alone.

While I still was waiting to hear how national franchising would benefit our audience members, he went on to talk about how competition was good and that in most places they were entering, BellSouth is the third or fourth competitor in the market and people need competition. That got me thinking that if there are already two or three competitors in the market, competitors who went out and got franchises from local governments, would people really be so desperate to have BellSouth that they would throw away their rights to manage their communities through a national franchising scheme?

He did say that local governments have been cooperative and helpful in the franchising process and those who had not were the exception not the rule. That was certainly refreshing given how the Bells have filed reams of statements to the FCC citing the horrific “barriers to entry” by local governments. He also said that they were not opposed to municipal networks. What a relief to hear that given all the legislation opposed to municipal networks that have been backed by the Bell Boys!

There was a bit of a warning against requirements for build-out. It was purely economical and they needed to build in an economic way rather than be forced to serve all homes in a community. I guess that’s why Baltimore has been completely ignored and Philadelphia has been told straight up that the fone fellas won’t be building there. Which somewhat confuses me given the density of housing in Baltimore and Philadelphia, you can reach a lot of subscribers in a short distance, but I suppose they aren’t those “high value” subscribers I keep hearing about.

That takes me back to the first game of “Telephone” I mentioned, it’s human nature not to hear things right and then repeat them over and over as if they were gospel. Or maybe it’s human nature not to tell the truth in the first place, like what your real motivation is for destroying a franchising model that has served citizens and consumers well for over thirty years. I guess I am a wee bit appalled that all of this is taking place to accommodate a technology that will get us no closer to true broadband deployment than we already are. But hey! That's how "Telephone" is played.

To read more about the technical aspects of at&t and BellSouth's architecture (and to see those honking huge boxes! note the fellow on page 17 in the sweatshirt standing in front of the behemoth) go to:

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Comcastic Consultants

I’ve been thinking about trying to get a job with Comcast. Strictly as a consultant and definitely not as a Customer Service Representative. I looked online at their job openings but they don’t advertise “consultant” positions. Those plum assignments are found through other channels. Working against me in this endeavor is the fact that I’ve never been elected to public office, I’ve never been married to an elected official and my father was just a school bus driver not the Senate President of Maryland.

The timing might not be good though because some overzealous lawmakers in Annapolis are calling for an ethics investigation of Comcast’s ties to government. It’s not the first time they’ve gotten excited about this sort of thing; several years ago they called for an investigation of Comcast’s relationship with electeds. At that time the uproar was about how Comcast uses their regional Channel 8 to put politicians’ mugs on TV. Comcast would invite the politicos to come on and talk about their pet issues but some at the statehouse saw this as a little too cozy and rightly nailed the practice as Comcast ingratiating themselves. It’s not an unheard of practice, smart local PEG channels do this sort of thing all the time. But then again, most PEG channels don’t follow up these beauty pageants with a fat check for the war chest.

While a probe was called for I don’t remember it going anywhere. Maybe this time it will be different.

This time it’s not just giving air time to seated politicians and candidates, it’s actually hiring current and past elected officials as consultants. And when that isn’t feasible, Comcast hires their relatives.

In Maryland one of these hires just happens to be our dear Republican First Lady, Kendel Ehrlich. She managed to walk away with $55k for producing and starring in a 16 episode talk show on substance abuse. At over $3,400 an episode she’s practically making scale. The subject matter is tough to argue but as Democrats eagerly pointed out “they did not expect the first lady to get paid to lecture on social ills that she has made a foundation of her public advocacy.”

Of course the Dems shouldn’t get too excited because Comcast is strictly bi-partisan. A sitting Baltimore City Councilman, a former Prince George’s County Executive and a former Howard County Councilman, all Democrats, nicely fill out the roster of Comcast’s “consultancy” team.

This reminds me of how Democrat Ed Rendell left office as Mayor of Philadelphia and just about his entire top level staff immediately got gainful employment with Comcast. Geesh, no wonder there’s still no public access in Philadelphia.

Then again, Comcast does slip up from time to time. They hired Lorine Card, sister-in-law of Andrew Card and Victoria Clarke, former spokeswoman for Donald Rumsfield, to whisper sweet-nothings into the ears of the Bush Administration. A fat lot of good that did. They should have hired former House Majority Leader Dick Armey to represent their interests. Dick has done wonders for the Bells in various states through his FreedomWorks shell game. Of course it could be Dick’s call for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine that has kept him off Comcast’s payroll. Even Comcast wouldn’t view that as prudent public posture on the most sensitive of issues.

So back in Maryland there is much hue and cry about probing for ethics violations or at the very least the appearance of violations. Given there’s only thirty days left in this session my money says nothing is going to happen. And while I have no desire to run for public office I just must try to talk my husband or my kids into getting elected to the state house. Bottom line, I am a consultant and a little bit of that Comcast juice would be good for business.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Babble On

It’s so tiring when people flap their yaps about things they know absolutely nothing about. Like when people who don't have children give you advice on how you should be raising yours. Or those Olympic program viewers making commentary about how Mark Grimmette should have kept his head down during the luge. I am not immune to such nonsensical babbling. I’ll admit I have very strong opinions about why Whitney Houston should deep-six Bobby Brown.

So when Sir Bill Gates weighs in on regulatory regimes or local franchising I am not completely surprised. I’m just trying to figure out when, if ever, Bill had any involvement in a local franchise. I mean, has he even seen one? Does he even know what one looks like? Or is it that Microsoft’s on again, off again love affair with AT&T (excuse me “at&t”) got a special Valentine’s Day boost?

Only two years ago, AT&T threatened to switch to Linux because of Windows unreliability. And surely the AT&T/TCI failure had to give Bill pause after he had sunk $5 billion into the broadband partnership. But now all is cozy-rosey as Gates and AT&T chairman Ed Whitacre hungrily eye the potential of having 149 countries in their communications grip with AT&T’s global IP network and Microsoft’s Connected Services Framework. They no doubt are frothing at the mouth at the prospect of cleaning up in this country. The thought of it all makes me feel so wonderfully satisfied.

But none of it takes into account that in order to give me my “smart” living room I still need to have a cable (somebody’s cable) snaking up my driveway and snaking down my street. Right now, down my street, there’s a long black cable coming out of a box running over the curb and up the gutter for a length of about 100 yards. Guess they forgot to bury that sucker and it’s just screaming for somebody to trip over it. Verizon is the most likely culprit since they came digging through here about three weeks ago. And could somebody come back through the neighborhood and get rid of the orange and blue paint markers all over our sidewalks and streets? We paid good money to have our house painted this summer and now I have a big red spot on the utility box that I am going to have to repaint. It makes it look like we got tagged by FEMA and I think my property values are slipping.

Gates and Whitacre have found a friend in Gene Kimmelman of Consumer’s Union. At Wednesday’s hearing Gene said:

“I get to agree with so many industries that I’ve had a problem with in the past.”

He went on to slam local government:

“Unfortunately their view of stewardship is getting maximum revenue for the cities but not taking care of community needs.”

Kimmelman’s ultimate goals are admirable. “Affordable broadband for citizens everywhere.” And I agree when he says “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t serve everyone in the community.”

Maybe Kimmelman didn’t get the memo from Mark Cooper of Consumer Federation of America. As Cooper pointed out to USA Today in May 2005: "My heart doesn't bleed for them," Cooper says of the Bells and their complaints about franchising rules. "They don't have a public-interest bone in their body."

And while it is lovely to think about affordable broadband that serves everyone in the community, USA Today reported the following:

“SBC noted that less than 5% of Lightspeed's deployment would be in "low-value" neighborhoods — places where people spend less than $110 a month. SBC's message: It would focus on high-income neighborhoods, at least initially, to turn a profit faster.”

Pray tell, who will make sure SBC (now at&t), Verizon, et al, do a complete build out without redlining? Will it be Senator Stevens? Or FCC Chairman Kevin Martin? Or perhaps Public Knowledge can get more grant money from Ford and MacArthur to supervise all those national franchises they advocate (with net neutrality of course!)

On the ground where it really counts, it is now and will always be local government that makes sure consumers get a fair shake...those nasty people who create barriers to local entry! I am working with a community right now that seems to have been red-lined by the cable operator. The administrator and I are going to take a neighborhood by neighborhood tour, I even plan to bang on a few doors and talk to the residents. If we discover that redlining has indeed taken place (in this community mainly because of economic status) trust me on this concept, it will be fixed.

Senator Stevens claimed on Monday in a MultiChannel News article that local government was committing extortion, he said there was even one community that demanded a football field in exchange for the franchise agreement. I called Senator Stevens office and spoke with his very nice press secretary, Aaron, and he could not tell me what community it happened in, but he did promise he would get back to me. I even asked the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) listserv which of them had been the culprit, but sure enough, we can’t find this mythical place of Mr. Stevens gargantuan imagination.

Which takes me back to the yapping. You got a lot of people who know nothing about what they’re talking about, being lead around by the nose by a select few who know exactly what they’re talking about, and most of the babble is either fantasy or outright lies. As somebody said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions but no one is entitled to their own facts. A simple notion that seems not to exist up on Capitol Hill.

MultiChannel News, February 14, 2005, October 5, 2004

Microsoft Press Release, June 6, 2005

USA Today, May 22, 2005

MultiChannel News, February 13, 2006

Interesting reading:

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Clowns To The Left, Jokers To The Right

Public Knowledge let me introduce you to Freedom Works. You two have a lot to talk about, like national franchising for instance. At the nexus of some bizarre universe your paths cross with a harmonic convergence that makes my hair stand on end.

“Our prepared testimony endorsed a national franchise for the phone companies, so they don't have to go to every city and county, because that would lead to consumers getting more choice sooner. Local authorities would still get their franchise fees” writes Public Knowledge.

“Applying the old, monopoly-based rules to the emerging market of broadband technologies runs the risk of reducing the pool of capital required to build the next generation networks, which can delay or deny the tremendous consumer benefits of ubiquitous broadband deployment,” says Freedom Works.

I mean I sorta kinda get it. Public Knowledge wants to insure network neutrality (a noble goal) but they are perfectly willing to get that by throwing the baby out with the bath water. It must be some sort of errant fatty deposit in the cerebral cortex or simply a complete lack of understanding of how franchising works because they keep insisting local government will still get those “franchise fees, franchise fees, franchise fees!” It’s like Public Knowledge went online and copied and pasted Freedom Works arguments as if they were their own.

Okay, let’s go back to class; we’ll call it “Public Administration 101.” Without local franchising authorities minding the store, we will need to set up a federal bureaucracy unrivaled in scope to make sure those “consumers” everybody keeps talking about have adequate service and protection.

Somebody has to make sure that cable companies (and now phone) properly close over those holes they dig in the street so when Mrs. Smith comes flying along in her Lincoln she doesn’t lose her front right axle. I say you create a Federal Bureau of Street Repair and you staff it with several thousand people to make sure that the holes and trenches the telecom companies and their various subcontractors dig get covered over and the asphalt is going to be at least up to snuff to sort of last for a couple of years. This should be a cabinet level department with several regional offices.

Then there’s that proper grounding thing. Cable companies have been notorious for not paying enough attention to this area and yes, there is the occasional electrocution. I’d like a federal department that not only sets standards but employs enough inspectors so that when Mr. Smith calls in worried about all those wires snaking around his house he’ll have somebody out there to check on it within three to six months.

Next we really need a U.S. Department of Cable Customer Service Complaint Resolution. Heard tell that one Midwest City takes in about 1,000 complaints a year, and that’s just one city. So I figure the USDCCSCR will occupy at least one whole city block up in the Portals on 12th Street in D.C. And they better have an army of phone operators standing by to take those calls.
This part could get really dicey. I made a complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration in April 2001 and I’m still waiting to hear back.

Which brings us to the Public, Education and Government Access Television Procurement and Support Administration. They’ll have to be ready to resolve local PEG disputes at the drop of a dime. Reminds me of the tale of the guy who went in to work as the Public access manager and got a phone call from a viewer asking where the channel had gone. Seems the cable op moved the channel over night and forgot to tell anybody. You got all kinds of issues in the PEG world that will need attention, like ghosting, snow and rolling during transmission, not to mention the administration of PEG capital and support funds. Of course you could just throw all those channels into the Public Broadcasting System; they are doing such a stellar job of providing localism not to mention free speech.

I could go on and on. We will need several federal departments to address issues such as redlining, billing practices, privacy rights, senior discounts, institutional networks, equipment and installation charges just to name a few. And we probably need an enforcement division with full police powers akin to the Border Patrol.

So the “franchise fee” thing is really just the tip of the iceberg and when groups like Public Knowledge or Freedom Works pat local government on the back and say “don’t worry your pretty little head, there’ll still be franchise fees,” local government gets, well, worried.

Wrapping up, on several occasions I have spewed about who funds groups like Freedom Works and other whacky D.C. think tanks. It is only fair that I spew about who is funding Public Knowledge. Folks like MacArthur, Ford, Rockefeller, Cummings, Warhol and List foundations. I am guessing that these foundations fully support Public Knowledge’s primary mission of guaranteeing “net neutrality,” an issue critically important to a true democracy. But Public Knowledge shouldn’t step into an issue so far beyond their scope. They want to testify about network neutrality? Great. Just zip the lips about how national franchising is so super for the consumer and how great it will be because the cities will still get their franchise fees.

That shows a tremendous amount of ignorance about what really goes on out there at the local level and you wouldn’t want to appear ignorant would you?

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

An Armey Of One

I miss Dick Armey. I know, he’s still around, but I miss having him as House Majority Leader. When he was Leader there was always this fabulous possibility he’d say something outrageously wacky straight to some camera and you’d get a whole evening’s worth of kitchen table discussion material absolutely free. Now, not so much. In his role as Co-Chair of FreedomWorks I hardly hear anything about him (maybe it’s because he’s just a “Co-Chair” and not really an out and out “Chair.”)

If it hadn’t been for Jeff Chester sending out Armey’s recent missive to Indiana State Senator Brandt Hershman urging Hershman to pursue efforts to “promote a truly competitive market for telecommunications” I might have missed that Armey was so enamored by Indiana politics.

The letter in support of SB 245 (see link below) is a masterpiece of flatulent obfuscation. It goes on for a ponderous eighteen hundred words or roughly five pages, single-spaced, with run on sentences you could drive a Mack Truck through. I don’t know about anybody else, but I remember being taught as a wee lass that when you write a representative regarding an issue you want to keep it brief (maybe two pages), provide salient talking points (three is always good) and if you absolutely need to, you can provide back up documentation as an enclosure, not in the body of the letter!

In paragraph two (these are huge block paragraphs, so be careful not to fall in) it says “Today, with both wireless and cable networks challenging the primacy of the old copper loops, we have reached the point where increasing competition has called into question the value of continued economic regulation.” In other words, the Bells are getting the snot spanked out of them by wireless providers and cable telephone and therefore they need some quick relief before they spill even more blood on Wall Street.

But it doesn’t stop there, it loops and loops. Current regulation is stifling competition but “Today’s markets are more appropriately characterized as competitive rather than monopolistic.” The worst of the hamstringing laws are of course, franchise agreements, according to Armey. Franchise agreements provide a wide degree of discretion for local franchising authorities (and PEG channels) and SB 245 attempts to simplify that process by requiring a statewide license and five percent of gross receipts, which according to Armey may be “welcomed by local franchise authorities.”

Could somebody pick up the phone and inform this man that local franchising authorities are not at all excited about having the state collect franchise fees and then dole them out (after removing appropriate administrative costs) to local government?

It would seem from the letter that while in theory Armey supports SB 245 he is in favor of wiping out the five percent franchise fee altogether, saying we should disentangle revenue collection from the regulation of technology.

While Armey’s letter certainly blows on and on there are moments of pseudo sophisticated technology talk that might lead the passing reader to assume that Armey is a man of great technical expertise. However, I am not convinced that his ideas are all his own. In reading through FreedomWorks materials I came across the Mother-of-All-Flow-Charts, called the “Cable Television Franchise Process.”

You have got to read this! Particularly you lawyer types out there! This chart reminds me of that David Bowie movie, Labyrinth, not just for its complexity but its wonderfully over-the-top flights of fancy.

Note how the LFA immediately rejects the application and hires a “Consultant/Engineer” to review the application and how soon “Challenge in Court?” is placed in the chart (in fact throughout the chart “Challenge in Court?” is noted several times). Most of the places I am dealing with don’t have the funds to hire a “Consultant/Engineer” and it wouldn’t be much help anyway as the “applicant” being the phone company, is already in the Right-of-Way and is entitled to upgrade its system without permission of the franchising authority.

It also cracked me up that more than half-way through the process the LFA finally hires an “outside attorney” to negotiate. Again, most places I know of don’t have the funds to hire an “outside attorney” to negotiate on their behalf and in a lot of small communities the overbuilder walks in the door with a two to five page franchise agreement that gets summarily signed by a city manager or council chair.

Three quarters of the way through the process is a box with “Appeal to Local Political Leaders?” I’m not sure which I find most amusing, the placement of the box or the question mark at the end of the statement.

Yes, Armey is a man of great acumen and skill, adept at suspending disbelief at lightening speed. A man known for kissing Bass he catches on the mouth and delighting his peers by stating “I’ve been to Europe once, I don’t have to go again.”

For the rest of us I suppose our response should be “Thanks Dick, but we’ve been to the Bell’s fantasyland on more than one occasion, we don’t need to go again.”

Letter to Indiana State Senator Brandt Hershman

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