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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