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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