Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ice Storm

There’s an inch of ice in Salina Kansas right now. The power is out in some places. My son is worried that the access station he works at will be off. I told him not to worry, if the town’s power is out, nobody’s going to see that the channel is dark. That’s similar to the kind of logic Comcast is applying to PEG channels in Michigan, nobody will miss what they cannot see.

Seems Comcast informed a host of municipalities in Michigan that they would be moving all the PEG channels to the “900 range” of the digital tier by January 15, 2008, some thirteen months before the GREAT DIGITAL TRANSITION! The Michigan NATOA folks got together and wrote Comcast a letter asking pertinent questions about this scheme. Questions like “Why now?” “What about the Basic Tier?” “Who else are you doing this to?” “Who’s going to pay for re-branding these channels?”

Comcast’s own Juan Otero wrote a response that basically said “We’re doing it because we can so screw you.”[1]

But the real reason Comcast is slamming PEG into the stratosphere is in Mr. Otero’s eighth paragraph.

“...I would point out that what we are talking about today with our provision of PEG in digital is a basic service tier that is ‘analog plus’ not ‘analog only’. At this time, we will not be offering a service tier that is ‘analog only’.”

Now I’ve never heard the term “analog plus” but I am supposing it’s pretty darn good, anything with a “plus” has got to be good.

Basically what he is saying is there won’t really be any Basic Tier, at least not the kind you can pick up for $15 or $16 a month. You know the one that is required by the Telecom Act? The one that is supposed to carry the broadcast channels and PEG? The one that a lot of seniors and people like my son get because they can’t afford a big cable bill. There will be a “Digital Starter” that after a six month honeymoon promotion will cost the consumer at least $65 a month after you throw in equipment and fees. Why have a Basic Tier for $15 a month? It isn’t cost effective. I know Comcast will make grandiose claims that of course they will offer that cheaper service, every customer is valuable. But the truth is why service three homes at $15 a month when you can service only one home for $65 a month?

How will they get away with this you ask?

Look at Bright House in Florida. They slammed PEG into the digital tier, completely off the Basic service, and their rationale was that they don’t have to have a Basic Tier. They say “competition” does not make them subject to the section of the law that covers rate regulation and the definition of the Basic Tier (as you and I know it) comes under that section. Ergo, they don’t gotta do it.

The only fly in this messy ointment is that neither Comcast nor Bright House is slamming the broadcast channels or PBS in order to “free-up” bandwidth. They can’t, they have to provide dual carriage until the GREAT DIGITAL TRANSITION takes place.

Comcast says it’s offering a free digital box to all Basic Service customers for the first year following the PEG slam, but in order to get that box you will have to subscribe to that digital tier. From the letter:

“It is worth noting that besides there being no legal requirement that cable operators offer PEG programming in analog format only, none of the cable’s national competitors offer it in analog.” (Meaning at&t and Verizon).

But the question is not about offering it in “analog only” the question is about removing PEG from analog altogether. What about those analog customers out there residing on the Basic Tier, aren’t their rights being violated?

Everybody else is hanging back, Time Warner, Charter, Cox. They are watching with eager anticipation, if Comcast succeeds; expect this scenario to come to a community near you lickety-split. Comcast is boldly throwing it all on the table and watching who will or will not salute. Along with the channel shuffle, they are closing down PEG operations as fast as state law allows.

And who’s gonna stop ‘em? The only option a community has is a lawsuit. Tell that to your city council and watch them shake their heads in disgust but concede impotence to do anything. How can they? They are up against an industry that rakes in over $100 billion a year, just on video, forget revenues from phone and internet. An industry in which one company can spend over $10 million lobbying in the state of Tennessee alone, never mind what they spent in California or for that matter Michigan.

Meanwhile PEG is being frozen out. Mr. Otero generously offers that Comcast will consider “reasonable reimbursement” to offset the expenses incurred by communities for rebranding the channels. He says some have talked about needing new letterhead and business cards. I’m sure those communities just can’t wait to cash that $200 check! Good move Comcast!

[1] Paraphrased but fairly accurately paraphrased.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bang The Drum Slowly

Recently I was told that my naiveté was charming. That despite my worldliness and my often cantankerous disposition, I still believed that people should do the right thing and when they don’t it causes me great disappointment. “Childlike view of the world” was slipped into the conversation.

Anybody else would have been insulted, but not me. I couldn’t dispute it.

It was all those years of Girl Scouts or maybe it was one too many Jimmy Stewart movie or perhaps my strict religious upbringing. God is always watching and when you lie, cheat, steal or otherwise behave dishonestly, some celestial record keeper is checking boxes. Ultimately at the end of the day there will be an accounting, that’s how I was brought up. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, human beings do need parameters and benchmarks, otherwise there would no social contract, we’d all run amok.

So it begs the question, can corporations or institutions be called to account? Does Comcast have a mortal soul? Is there a Purgatory for federal agencies? Can entire legislative bodies be required to do penance?

The FCC handed down their “2nd Report and Order” on cable franchising and in the weeks that have followed there has been much confusion because while the FCC sought to “clarify” the Telecommunications Act, it just added more mud to the well. I have read the 2nd Order and the 1st Order that addressed telecommunications companies. I’ve read filings in the attendant case before the Sixth Circuit, and I’ve listened to intelligent people, some of them lawyers who do nothing else for a living except telecom law, and there’s a huge amount of “well, we don’t know” “we’ll have to see how it plays out” “we’re waiting for the court to decide.”

The bottom line, with or without the FCC’s guidance, cable operators and their cohort phone buddies, will say or do anything to get over on anybody. That is the corporate culture of those industries. Period. And the only way to deal with them is to come out swinging. Forget negotiating, carry a large stick.

No sooner is the ink dry on the FCC’s rulemaking or the various state legislation (the very rulemaking and legislation that was supposed to increase competition, provide better service and lower prices) and here’s what you get:

  • Verizon announced it’s raising rates 11.5%
  • Bright House announced it was slamming PEG access out of the Basic Tier into the Digital Tier and if people with analog sets still wanted to get it they could rent a converter box for an additional dollar a month
  • Cox customers were told by door-to-door salesmen that if they wanted to receive the broadcast stations, Public television and PEG, they would have to pay for digital because Cox was no longer going to offer Basic
  • Comcast announced it was shutting down its PEG operations in three Indiana towns
  • at&t threatened the state of Connecticut that it would shut down service to its U-Verse customers before it would comply with Connecticut’s statewide franchising process
  • Charter raised its Basic service tier rates by over 40%
  • at&t had a nationwide crash of its U-Verse service (which is not a big deal because they have so few customers anyway)
  • Time Warner applied for a statewide franchise in a community in North Carolina and then stopped service in the portion of the community that was too rural for their taste, leaving those residents with no cable options and no broadband
  • at&t demonstrated to PEG operators how they were going to deliver PEG programming through a layered on-demand system that required about seven clicks of the remote in order to find the channel
  • The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission published a report that cable complaints had risen 25% since statewide franchising

    This is the short list; I didn’t have time to compile all of the anecdotes. But more insidious than what they have been doing is what they will do under the new FCC scheme.

    For PEG and municipalities, the 2nd Order will eliminate PEG operating grants that have been agreed to in so many franchises around the country. It doesn’t eliminate the ability of municipalities to provide PEG operating funds but certainly takes away those grants that were negotiated in addition to the five percent franchise fee. It is unclear how the ruling will or will not affect the statewide legislation but there are states that required a specific amount to be set-aside for PEG support in addition to the franchise fee. Depending on how the Order will be interpreted in the guaranteed court cases, the Order could turn those state provisions on their head.

    The FCC did not include capital funds as an offset to franchise fees, but that’s hardly a consolation if there are no operations dollars, it’s like having a Cadillac with no one to drive it.

    Commissioner Martin and the majority gave an already glutted cable and telecom industry a lovely holiday bonus, the new Order takes effect on Christmas Eve. So just as the industry will be pouring the champagne, PEG operators will be opening their sacks of coal.

    The evil that has been wrecked on PEG over the past two years does not rise to the quality of evil we witness on the nightly news by any stretch of the imagination, no one has died, no children have starved. But it is an evil nonetheless in that the small sliver of democratic discourse we call PEG access television has taken a brutal beating and in some cases been snuffed out. And for what? More hedonism and excess?

    The time for nashing of teeth is over. The good thing about hitting rock bottom and having nothing left to lose is that it can embolden you. It is time for the industry to get their comeuppance. It is time to restore what has been stolen away, state by state, FCC Order by FCC Order. It is time for a national legislative strategy.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

at&t Scores a Penalty Flag

Are the executives at at&t completely unaware of the national video phenomena called "football?" In my house during football season my husband dons his Eagles cap and spends most of Sunday yelling at the TV screen. He doesn’t only watch Eagles games but takes an interest in Ravens, Patriots, Redskins, Packers, Bears and Chargers. He’s not a big Giants fan, but if pressed, he will watch. Sometimes he is joined in this endeavor by our neighbor Dana, who also likes to yell at the set. Although Dana would prefer they watch the games at his house because his TV is bigger and he has FiOS.

If on this past Sunday, we had at&t as our cable provider instead of Comcast, I might be filing divorce papers right now or posting bail money. I know for a fact it wouldn't have been pretty and this may be the only time I will ever thank God for having Comcast.

If you haven’t heard at&t’s U-verse TV went kaput on Sunday for a substantial amount of time in a substantial number of markets. Markets where football is considered somewhat important, like say Kansas City or maybe all of Connecticut. These places were joined by outages in Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit (are you kidding me?), Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Houston. The Houston customers were probably placated with “Calm down, at least your box didn’t explode!”

In the olden days local franchises typically included provisions for how a customer would get reimbursed if their service didn’t work and provisions for how a municipality should be contacted if a percentage of homes in the franchise area lost service for a certain amount of time. The reason for this was two-fold, one was to make sure the customer wasn’t paying for something they didn’t get and the other was to give the franchising authority the heads up that a bunch of angry people were probably going to be calling to complain. I could be wrong but I remember that in most of the statewide franchises no such provisions exist. Who needs “customer service standards” when there’s competition?

But is it competition really when a company is dependent on a technology that can fail an entire nation and not just a single franchise area or neighborhood?

at&t should not have been so darn ambitious. There have been some kinks in the software to work out, some enhancements to be made. I think it would have been better not to try to conquer the United States straight out the gate; this is a big country after all. Maybe they should have started with something more doable and less formidable like Tuvalu or Lichtenstein. Vatican City is the smallest country in the entire world with only 700 residents and on Sunday I could bet most of them weren’t watching football. They should have started there, especially since there’s a real possibility for absolution when you fail.

The good news is at&t provides a “U-talk” web site and they were able to provide their customers instruction on re-booting their set top boxes at certain pre-arranged times. I guess that was so not everybody was “re-booting” all at once and overloading the system and causing it to crash again. My favorite was Oklahoma City and its time being 7:15. Anything earlier would not work, not 7:14 or 7:13 or 7:12, just 7:15.

I feel kind of bad about all of this but then again at&t is using a Microsoft product and you know how you need to pay attention to their upgrades and patches. Anybody who’s ever used a computer should have that figured out.

We’ll have to wait and see how it all works out next Sunday. There’s a Washington v. New England game on at 4:15, so if they hurry, the Connecticut folks have just about enough time to call up DIRECT TV and order a dish.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Self-Licking Ice Cream Cones

Today, I so desire not to rant. I would prefer to have a nice, genteel discourse. That is my preference; however, I can’t seem to get everyone else to cooperate.

The term for it is “Self Licking Ice Cream Cone.” Not my invention by any means, but a favorite phrase of my dear sweet husband. He also calls the newscasters “Blow Dries,” but that is for another day.

That Self Licking Ice Cream Cone stood up at the Emmy’s and claimed HE had invented democratic discourse on television by lending his name to a thing called “Current T.V.” Course that same Cone claimed many years ago HE had invented the Internet. Meanwhile the wheels go round and round and the Cone licks itself because it can, regardless of how many “carbon credits” that may cost. And has anyone with a shred of honesty looked at the offerings of Current T.V.? That is not “Democratic” discourse, that is “Here is Our Point of View Discourse.”

But real people, who know, understand that there is only one democratic discourse outlet to be found anywhere on television and that is a thing-a-ma-bob we call Public access television. Its counterpart may very well be Low Power FM on the radio side of things. And real people understand that Mr. Ice Cream Cone did not invent this idea or phenomena and take umbrage at his suggestion and wonder, really do wonder, where the heck THEIR EMMY IS AFTER ALL THESE FRICKIN YEARS?

And they, suffer in silence. Meanwhile Cone gets a statuette and headlines.

And meanwhile, they shut the lights on “Speak Up Tampa Bay,” the Public access television channel in in Hillsborough County, Florida, because they are hicks and because they can. This “cut’ follows years and years of fundamentalist right wing attempts by a one Rhonda Storms, a county commissioner who also led the campaign against “lap-dancing.” Never mind that we got kids who are failing in schools or old people who are dying because they can’t afford the air-conditioning in the summer. “We Got Trouble Here in River City! It starts with an L and ends with a P and it spells Lap Dancing!” Oh the shame of it all!

And never question me about the cat-fight I got into with Ms. Storms, it wasn’t pretty and if only I had been face to face with that lovely individual, there would have been something flying, and it wouldn't have been mine.

The budget cut that eliminated Speak Up Tampa Bay’s funding from the County was necessary to balance the $4 billion budget. That all important $355,000 of Public access television money that was cut was less than a 16th of one percent of the total budget. Meanwhile, our esteemed colleagues in Hillsborough County will be doubling spending on the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to $900,000 (the group promotes amateur athletic events in Hillsborough County—like what “cricket” and “lawn bowling”?) and spending $1.5-million on replacing all the televisions in luxury suites with high-definition models in time for the 2009 Super Bowl. It is tragic that the Marriott and the Hilton can’t afford the digital transition for their luxury suites, I mean a schmoo room during January costs $350 per night, what could a luxury suite command? $1,500 or $2,000? But no, I agree with the County Council, august representatives that they are…let the taxpayers eat it.

Hillsborough County must have the Speak Up Tamp Bay money for amateur Sports and the Super Bowl…because the Blue Ray Devil Buccaneers are gonna do it up big in 2009. Talk about Self Licking Ice Cream Cones.

Then you got Indiana. Ah, Comcast sends a letter and that is the end of the story. But as I read it, a one Amy Hansen, poor company dear writes, and I quote:

“While the state statute ensures that channel capacity will be provided for access channels in existence on January 1, 2006, there is no requirement to continue to provide personnel, studios or equipment.”

Ergo…Comcast will shut down any studios and Public access operations beginning September 28 to the towns of Hammond, Portage and Mishawaka, Indiana.

Not so fast Cowboys…here’s the text of the law…

(2) requires a provider described in section 21(a) of this chapter to provide PEG channel capacity, facilities, or financial support under a local franchise issued to the provider by the unit before July 1, 2006, regardless of whether the provider elects to:
(A) continue the local franchise under section 21(b)(1) of this chapter; or
(B) terminate the local franchise under section 21(b)(2) of this chapter and continue providing video service in the unit under a certificate issued under this chapter.

Boy howdy, Amy, go back to yer bosses because I think indeed you do need to provide personnel, studios or equipment, if it existed in the franchise, which it probably did and I’m thinking (like in Brookline Massachusetts) Comcast just waltzing away from an obligation doesn’t negate the obligation. Yee Haw!

At least Comcast, unlike Hillsborough County or Al Gore, wasn’t trying to divert Public access funds to support to non-existent amateur sports teams or multi-national hotel chains for HDTV set ups or claim they invented democratic discourse on television. Comcast is just trying to weasel out wherever they can, especially in those small jurisdictions who may not know any better and especially in Indiana where the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission is completely Ignoramus Non-Gratis on video franchising. Even now…two years into the game.

Then it does get better methinks.

The National Reproductive Rights and Abortion League (NARAL) or National Abortion Rights and Reproductive League or NARAL Pro-Choice America or whatever the heck that acronym has evolved into these days (don’t get me started, I couldn’t find the explanation anywhere on their website), was denied the ability to send a text message to their members about an important piece of legislation on the Verizon network.

You know, you’ve seen the commercial. A young woman goes to college, she has her phone but more than that, she has a WHOLE NETWORK following her around, keeping her safe and warm and assuring her parents it is A-Okay for her to be on her own. Very close to a Hallmark moment. We're all feeling really good…but wait! There’s more! Should that same college co-ed want to get text messages regarding reproductive rights and actions she might take to secure the same…there they all are…that loving network, wagging their fingers “Oh no, no, no!”

Then the Network goose steps toward our co-ed and says “Nein, Nein, Verboten!”

Funny how when that story hit the news and women across this country began reacting, Verizon quickly switched position. They claimed “that the incident was the result of "dusty internal policy.” Whoo Hoo darlin’, dating back to when? 1215 A.D.?

So I cannot rant, I have no strength to even rave any longer…I am weak from shock after shock after shock. I would characterize my condition as bewildered. And more than anything else, I wonder…do those Self-Licking Ice Cream Cones ever look in the mirror and come to the realization they have a finite shelf life? Or are they simply distracted by all the Self-Licking that goes on?

P.S. To all my peeps in Philly...Wow! Can't believe it! Finally after all these years, Public access $1.9 or so in capital funding, city gave you a library building, and will be paying your utilities, and $500k or so for operating per year...I feel like I have just give birth...so great! To all you...Inja, George, Gretjen, Rachel and EVERYBODY IN PHILLY...geesh...I wanna cry I am so proud of you all and all the hard work you have done over the years...ok, I am crying...You Philly people are so inspirational (go Indianapolis!) so many years and you just kept on, I have never, NEVER seen a group of local activists so amazing regardless of the issue I have worked (pro-choice, church-state separation, access). You guys blow me away! So when will you start the workshops? How to do a movement and how to succeed? Love to you! Bunnie

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Friday, September 07, 2007


The study of language fascinates me. There are so many parts. The actual language itself or languages themselves. The socialization of language. How language metamorphoses over time, geographical areas, trends or necessity. The physical characteristics of language. How does the human palate form words working in concert with the tongue and the lips? How is language is learned, by demonstration, experience or happenstance? I mean why does a child say “Momma” or “Daddy” and not “Hot Dog?” at ten or twelve months? Are we to believe that Baby loves us more than Hot Dogs or do we just drill Momma and Daddy so relentlessly the kid never has a chance to express their primary desires linguistically ever?

A friend of mine who is studying Mandarin told me that there are no conjugations in that language. I got really upset. See, I can speak Spanish but only in the “Present Tense.” I am always “here now” in my Spanish, never have I ever been anywhere, never am I going any place. Just this, right this minute. “I stay in Madrid.” Not “I stayed in Madrid last Thursday.” My friend tells me that all the words are the same, only the intonation changes to define past, present and future. That sure does cut down on spelling woes, and it does account for why those of us who do not speak Mandarin think they are using the same words over and over again. But he did warn me, don’t try to write it, the intonations do not translate to the written word and the written language is way too complicated. Unlike my English or my Spanish in which if you can figure out the root, you pretty much have the conjugations under control.

Then there’s the whole subject of my dog or any dog, who they say has a 100 word vocabulary. My husband and I sat down one night and tried to figure out how many words our dog, Gypsy, could recognize (we had nothing better to do). We came up with about 60. We realized that for our dog to gain her full linguistic potential she would have to learn a new word a week for almost a year. At first, we did set out to determine which 40 new words she would need, concentrating on only the most essential and important words. I think we gave up somewhere around the third glass of wine.

So, you see, how important I think language is? That is why I am completely put out by at&t’s definition of what a PEG channel should be.

Note: Okay…I always refer to AT&T as at&t. Got that? Stop doing that CAPITAL THING WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT THOSE KNUCKLEHEADS…USE THEIR OWN MONIKER…LOWER CASE…at&t. They are the ones who did the focus groups and spent tons of money on advertising advice and basically what they came up with is “if you will use lower case, people won’t remember you being such ogres and they will like you and not mind that you have once again completely or almost (even though they will understand you are rapidly moving in that direction) dominated all of their communications choices, devices or pathways (especially since the Justice Department under the esteemed, yet run out of town on a rail, Alberto Gonzales, has deemed that a closed, pay as you go Internet, is A-Okay to a First Amendment Society that determined that EVERYBODY has an equal right to FREE SPEECH or access to information). Geesh.

God, can we get to the CHANNELS.

So here is how I heard it. at&t keeps going around the country explaining to cities, counties, municipalities how they are going to “deliver” PEG channels.

Here I was thinkin “A Horse is a Horse Of Course of Course.” You younger folk type just be patient, I’m gettin’ to it.

So here is a channel according to at&t (note, it’s not the same explanation they gave to ESPN or Home Shopping or Discovery):

Windows Media Codec at 1.3Mb/sec (1Mb - Video, .3Mb for Audio, Captioning, Overhead)

Now that’s a Whoo-Hoo! Channels are now Windows Media Codec…Tell Me More Big Mama!

Partial Screen Video - 320 x 240 Video that can be "maximized" to full screen.

You Got Me, You Got Me…Maximize…come on Baby, Maximize!!! To FULL SCREEN NONE THE LESS…Oh Mama!

Does not appear in standard U-Verse line up for channel surfing, but in separate "Media Player"
Does PEG have to be in a SEPARATE MEDIA PLAYER? Is that because PEG is SO DIRTY? With our talk shows, our cooking shows, our local music scenes, our League of Women Voters (you know how they are) and our AARP chapters? Yeah MA BELL, TELL ME MORE!

Does not support standard U-Verse features including Picture in Picture. THANK GOD!!! We would never want our technology to actually get to the point where people could testify before City Council using their modem cameras or even testify in person at City Council and us actually see the expression on our Council members faces or even see the land fill we were talking about as we talked about it. Too much live interaction, God forbid!!!

DVR Does not have separate channel location - all PEG Channels are lumped together in Channel "99.” Is that metaphorical? Somebody’s getting it up the “9” and we all know who.

Does not appear in U-Verse "TV Guide" detailed listing. Precious. Really Precious. So…let’s see…”Wife Swap,” which I believe is still illegal in the 50 states, and “1,000 pound man,” which is just what all of us are wanting to see (car wreck sick psychopaths that we are) and “Cheap Sterling Jewelry Sale That We Hope Will Run Up Your Credit Card Because We Made a Deal for a Kick Back From Visa But We Aren’t Violating RICO” will be listed. But Public, Educational and Government Access will not be listed, only the number 99 and I have already explained the metaphorical connotations of that! Stop asking Pervert!

Here’s the point. Whether at&t in CA or Bright (not so much) House in FL, the state laws that were passed required you to provide PEG channels, even though in most cases, you dregs of the earth were able to get out of PEG funding, scum that you are…you still have to do the channels, morons. And last I looked, and Harold Feld from Media Access Project looked, there was a STINKIN FEDERAL LAW THAT PRE-EMPTS YOUR STATE LAWS, that said the channels had to be on BASIC FRICKIN TIER!

No fancy dances, no intonations, no conjugations, no dog vocabulary.

See: Communications Act, Sec 623(b)(7)(A)(ii).

Thanks Harold…I was way too lazy or busy to look it up. I’ll call Manatee County in Florida (who was told by Bright House they would be bumped to the digital tier) tomorrow. And Brian, out in California, you and all my natives…tell that bitch (dare I say it?) to go pound sand.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I asked him if he had seen the “Arbitration Notice.” He said “No.” I said “Are you sure? Maybe it’s in the pile,” referring to the stack of bills and junk mail thrown into the basket for our attention at a later time. He pulled it all out and began riffling through the paperwork. “I don’t see it,” he replied. “Well, where’s the bill?” I asked. “Paid it already, the paperwork is on your desk.” “It should have been an extra piece of paper that had “Arbitration Notice” on the cover,” I said. “Didn’t see it,” he said “Probably threw it out.”

That’s how it went in my house, the house that is always on the look out for dirty tricks by Comcast. So I imagine most other houses did what we did, threw it out as just one more piece of cable mumbo-jumbo fine-print baloney. The now infamous “Arbitration Notice” that Comcast sent its customers sometime in July, had gone the way of credit card offers, coupons and catalogs, to the recycle bin.

It’s a neat trick, gotta give ‘em credit for that. Just notify people one day that if they have any dispute they might have heretofore litigated, Comcast unilaterally took away that right. Poof! All gone!

“Any “Dispute,” claim or controversy between you and Comcast regarding any aspect of your relationship with Comcast (I have a “relationship” with Comcast?) that has accrued or may hereafter accrue, whether based in contract, statute, regulation, ordinance, tort (including but not limited to, fraud, misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, negligence or any other intentional tort), or any other applicable legal or equitable theory, and includes the validity, enforceability or scope of this Arbitration Provision.”

Then they go on to tell you that class action suits are out and forget about going after any of their officers, representatives, agents or employees.

So if the cable guy comes over to my house and in the course of doing his work hits the wrong wire and starts a fire and my house burns down I will have to go to Arbitration rather than court and will not be able to recover my lawyers’ fees if they find in my favor but will have to reimburse Comcast for all their fees if the Arbitration finds in Comcast’s favor.

Can somebody explain to me what an equitable “theory” is? I think the Comcast guy got the language from GermanDeli.com, it’s almost exactly like their statement on “limited liability.” But even GermanDeli had the good grace to exempt injury or death. If I’m reading this right, Comcast could kill you and you still wouldn’t be able to collect attorney’s fees.

I also like the term “fraudulent inducement.” It brings to mind a woman who is trying to pass off certain body parts as genuinely her own in order to snag a guy when in fact she paid a pretty penny to look that way. That’s fraudulent inducement.

Way harsh you say? You’re right. Comcast is such an ideal corporate citizen and they give back SO much to the community. It says so on their website.

“Our mission (and you bet we choose to accept it): to empower communities and enrich lives…so that our gifts keep on giving. And that enriches all our lives.”

That peccadillo is under their website heading called “Giving more, Getting more.” Which means “We are stickin it to ya and lovin it!” I wonder who came up with the little “and you bet we choose to accept it”? Makes me want to slap a fella on the back and buy him another beer!

The good news is you do have thirty days from the date you receive the notice to opt out of this fraudulent inducement. You have to do it online or send them a letter. But since my husband can’t remember if he got the notice or not, I am not sure I will beat that deadline. And the letter writing is going really slow because I am having a hard time finding exactly the right phrasing.

Anybody got a dictionary of four-letter words you could lend me?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Haunting Refrain

I understand the band played while the Titanic sank. It’s a romantic thought, a group of people, consciously ignoring their own peril, giving false comfort in a time of despair. I could never see myself tooting a French horn in the most extreme moment, rather I would have been kicking and scratching to make sure I got on the damn life boat. But that’s just me, I’m a hopeless cynic.

Ohio went down and the most important thread was which cameras were most efficient and cost effective. Now the PEG folks in Ohio will be bankrupted by transmission costs and completely de-funded by 2012, if not sooner due to that opt-out clause in the bill, but at least they’ll be informed about the differences between Panasonic and Canon. Thank God.

And while the assaults continue some have the bright idea that streaming video is salvation. Tell that to ESPN. I’m guessing they’ve done their research and understand too well that people are not watching less television, they are watching more. You heard me, more hours of sitting in front of the tube, not less. It’s called “multi-tasking.” The cutting edge of technology is that people sit in front of their tv’s with their laptops and do both, surf the web and flip channels. Meanwhile the logic on the street is that PEG will survive if it can figure out a way to use the internet to communicate. Isn’t that making the at&t “you don’t need a channel we’ll just put you on the internet” argument for them? Or is that just drinking the Kool-Aid?

Years ago there was this meeting in Tucson in which we tried to discern the future. The intelligent folks gathered in that room came to an ultimate conclusion that whatever happened we would ride that horse until it was frothing at the mouth. Who knows? Maybe we failed to communicate that commitment.

Everyone is weary, I think. It’s been a long haul. Few have the tenacity of Barb Popovic in Chicago to fight for the best statewide franchising bill that has been passed. And then there’s the line up of the stars in the state houses that begins with the lining of the pockets in the state houses, you can’t hardly beat that most times, especially when you can’t match the cash.

But at some point you just gotta rope-a-dope.

Catherine Rice of North Carolina points out that since they passed statewide franchising that was bought and paid for by at&t there have been eighty-nine statewide franchises sought, all by incumbent cable operators. Competition is a mighty thing and I have no doubt that Time Warner will bring down its prices now that it has a statewide franchise to challenge Time Warner.

The beauty of the North Carolina debacle is that it poses a real chance to get the legislation they passed almost two years ago repealed. It ain’t working, the Attorney General hates it and there’s a provision that the legislature has to re-visit the topic come next term. A concerted effort in North Carolina could serve as an example elsewhere. Remember, these statewide bills are just pieces of legislation not Constitutional Amendments.

At the beginning of this blog a million years ago I wrote about the state-by-state strategy mainly because I have witnessed that same strategy used in so many other issues. It’s slow, it’s costly, but is ultimately easier than trying to find a federal solution. And frankly at&t is coming ever closer to folding up their cable tent and Verizon has gotten more franchises than they can possibly build into the foreseeable future, there are tangible opportunities waiting.

Let’s just not go there. Instead let’s spend time in the geek-o-rama world putting our energy into endless discussions about open source web creation software and whether or not we should charge for studio rental. Is it just me or do you hear the leadership vacuum sucking loudly away?

Meanwhile Ohio is gone despite the valiant effort of the access television folks on the ground and there was hardly a whimper from their colleagues in more progressive circles like the much touted, so-called “media reform” movement. They’re too busy uncovering the scandalous attempt by Rupert Murdoch to purchase the Dow Jones, as if he’s going to turn the Wall Street Journal into some kind of capitalist right wing rag. For shame.

Erma Bombeck once said that had the women on the Titanic known what was going to happen they would have ordered dessert. Great idea. I’ll take my Sundae with extra fudge and whipped cream, please. Oh, and make the ice cream chocolate.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Justice In The Affairs Of Another

I have this nosey neighbor. She loves to make commentary on everything and everybody in the neighborhood. It’s kind of sad because if she really could see herself she wouldn’t be so quick to point out the flaws of others. I think she does it in order to deflect attention away from her shortcomings. Kind of like the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a letter sent to Wisconsin lawmakers (and lawmakers in other states considering state-wide video franchising) Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Barnett expressed the views of the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. According to Barnett, the Antitrust Division applauds the efforts of two Wisconsin lawmakers to ensure that the local franchising system “benefits consumers by allowing additional video-service providers to enter the market.” He said recent state-wide franchising efforts in other states have already yielded significant consumer benefits.

Oh really? And those benefits would be?

Barnett cites a survey conducted in 2006 by the American Consumer Institute, Does Cable Competition Really Work? A Survey of Cable TV Subscribers in Texas (2006). Link to it here at: http://theamericanconsumer.org/Consumers%20Saving%20from%20Competition.pdf

It’s a great little survey that American Consumer Institute uses over and over and over again in what they call “Consumer Grams.” Basically 1,077 Texans were surveyed with 883 identifying themselves as subscribing to pay TV or cable TV services. Of that 883, I couldn’t really figure out how many of those were satellite households because they didn’t break that down and the survey goes forward asking about the “cable company” as if all respondents were cable subscribers. But then later the report says “Satellite providers were clearly affected by competition, accounting for nearly 40% of the new competitor’s gain.” Yo! Hey! I thought removing those pesky “barriers to entry” set up so cruelly and unfairly by local government was supposed to break up the cable monopoly?

The Consumer Gram that cites this survey says that cable customers living in competitive markets reported saving (on average) $22.30 per month. However, the majority, 52% of those who switched, said their bill actually increased or stayed about the same. In other words, out of those who switched (191 households) almost 100 said the bill was the same or even went up! Was that from cable households or satellite households? I am confused.

The survey then claims that even if people don’t switch they enjoy lower prices just because there’s a competitor in the market. Well…not exactly.

502 people answered that they had not switched but they were aware there was a competitor in the market (again, satellite or cable?). Of those, a whopping 55 said they had benefited from lower cable prices as a result of the recent competition. However, a more significant 447 answered they had not benefited or were not sure if they had benefited. Of those 447, roughly 392 were absolutely, positively sure they had not benefited, they answered “No.”

Geesh, I guess had Barnett actually read the survey he might not have been so darn quick to cite it. Can you say “Egg on your face?”

There’s just so much more. Most of Barnett’s cites come from guys who work in think tanks with fists thrust deep into the pockets of the telecom industry. Stephen Pociask, who did the Texas survey, is in a wide web of all kinds of “institutes” including the Competitive Enterprise Institute which pretty much spends its time being the mouthpiece for industry (pick one). Pociask also is cited as the author of The Black Hole of Sacred Mountain, it’s a science fiction piece about black holes and sacred mountains, something Mr. Pociask proves himself to be quite an expert at.

The American Consumer Institute touted that Floridian consumers would save about $1.4 billion dollars per year in cable costs which is probably what lead the Governor to rubber stamp that bill. However, ACI says Texans would realize “millions” in savings. Sorry Texas. And, ACI says that if we could replicate the statewide bills across this country, we would see a savings of $23 billion per year. That’s basically taking the entire population of Florida, not cable households, and extrapolating it out across the entire population of the US. And I can’t figure out how they arrived at that $1.4 billion number in the first place. Only if I take an estimated number of cable households in Florida and multiply that by the $22 per month touted in savings from Pociask’s Texas survey and multiply that by 12 months do I come up with close to $1.4 billion dollars.

But remember, 78% of those in the Texas survey (who had not switched) said they had not seen their prices go down. And 52% of those who had switched said their bill increased or stayed the same. So the real number, even if we use Pociask’s $22 a month is more like $348 million. And you can cut that by half to two-thirds if you consider 52% who did switch saw the same bill or are paying even more.

Mr. Justice Department Barnett says other states have already yielded significant consumer benefits. Tell that to the people in North Carolina who passed statewide franchising well over a year ago and have yet to see one statewide franchise application. I am wrong on that, actually Time Warner, the incumbent applied for a statewide franchise but at&t (who pushed through the legislation) is woefully MIA. In that state consumers will greatly benefit from having to file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, which by the way nobody consulted the Attorney General’s Office on whether they wanted or had the capacity to handle cable complaints.

I could go on and on, but then again I already have.

If I were a conspiracy theorist I would say that the U.S. Department of Justice has so much bad press these days they are using every effort they can to deflect, including sticking their big nose in the business of state legislatures. But I don’t need a conspiracy theory about that when there are real conspiracies staring us in the face. The conspiratorial behavior of the Assistant Attorney General Thomas O. Barnett and the lackies of Verizon and at&t, such as the American Consumer Institute.

Mr. Barnett should just come forward and plead guilty on this one, otherwise he faces a more embarrassing risk of having to plead he can’t read nor does he comprehend the English language. It’d be better for him to just admit bias or admit he’s looking for his next job after this administration.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

The Elephant In The Room

My husband hates it when a news story cycles over and over, so it was no surprise that his response to seeing the “Imus” story yet again was “God, is that still on?”

“No” I said, “It’s good. It’s created a dialogue.”

This past week I’ve heard topics discussed that nobody was talking about in the “mainstream-all-Anna-Nicole-Smith-all-the-time-media.” Racism, sexism, media consolidation, money, power, censorship, moral decay. Real conversation about real things that hit us where we actually live instead of the typical fanfare of “baby’s daddies” and “shaved heads.”

It even prompted a conversation between me and a couple of Jehovah’s Witness women that came to my door. They gave me a pamphlet about morality and my response was “Tell me about it. Since when did women’s liberation become Girls Gone Wild?” One of the women responded “Yeah, there’s no Gloria Steinem in that.” I think had the conversation gone on, we might have diverged on our definitions of morality. But, we did agree that our shared frustration had its roots in the continual bombardment by media of images, words and yes, music, that denigrates women and returns us to the object status that Betty Friedan railed against in the Feminine Mystique. Here we are four decades later and our mops have been replaced by booty calls. And so much of that has been manufactured by a media who as the Rutger’s coach said, sees one color, that being green.

In that environment where it’s all just fun, one big long hoot, eighteen year old girls get called dirty names by a worn out old coot.

But more than what’s out there, I spend time worrying about what’s on the inside. It is not my imagination that young women have internalized sexual exploitation and why shouldn’t they, they’re being hammered by it constantly. I saw a girl who couldn’t have been more than ten walking through the mall (with her mother) wearing the shortest of shorts on which the words “Hot Stuff” were embroidered. The media message is clear; being sexually desirable makes you somebody, not being somebody makes you sexually desirable.

I wonder how long the conversation about media consolidation will last? This past week I finally heard some black journalists getting a chance to tackle the subject on Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz. But when one of the journalists started really drilling down on who owns the air waves, Kurtz cut him short because it was time for a commercial break.

So it’s no wonder that we never really get to how racial exploitation is a big money maker and how Hollywood continues to rake in dough portraying every black man as a pimp and every black woman as a prostitute. And we can’t get there because the board rooms of corporate media are short on women and certainly short on people of color. We won’t arrive at any positive resolutions any time soon as long as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences think the following lyrics deserve an Oscar.

“Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they'll both do you
That's the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah”

Nor will we change anything as long as we believe that putting pressure on advertisers and sponsors to get media cleaned up is censorship. It’s not censorship when Imus is fired but it is censorship when Rap is held to account, or at least the white board rooms that exploit the lowest common denominators in our society are held to account? I do think Imus should have been fired, but I also believe there’s a few dozen more heads in music, television and film, that need to roll

Me and the Jehovah’s Witness women probably do have a lot of differences in our definitions of morality. But I got the sense, in that brief conversation, that we would agree that somewhere, somehow there has to be a limit.

The parents of the Rutger’s team need to be congratulated for doing such an outstanding job raising those girls, given they were challenged every step of the way by a media that believes swimming in a cesspool is perfectly acceptable behavior. Where is their fifteen minutes of fame? Where is their award?

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Blasphemy Comes A-Callin

It’s never a good sign when you find yourself swearing at your computer screen before 9 a.m. It’s a jumble, it’s just a jumble.

It started with a story regarding a resolution passed by the U.N. Human Rights Council sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that limits freedom of expression about religion. The resolution was presented as a measure to “protect the religious sensibilities of Muslims.” Look out Salman Rushdie, Madonna, Pope Benedict and you Danish cartoonists…”it” is on, the U.N. Human Rights Council says so. South Africa voted for it as well Mexico, China, Russia and of course Saudi Arabia.

The resolution says freedom of expression should be “exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law.” Does this mean I can’t make fun of Scientology anymore?

The next bit of cursing (taking the Lord’s name just slightly in vain) came while reading more about at&t’s plans to deliver PEG channels in a “web page” format. And with that, not even having the PEG “channel” occupy an entire web page, but be boxed up with text kinda appearing beside the box. Moreover, there seems to be no guarantee of transmission quality but instead the quality will be what is acceptable to at&t. Then of course, municipalities would have to lease T-1 lines.

I looked it up. T-1 lines can carry 1.544 megabits per second. And while I was looking that up, I saw that an OC192 line can carry 9.6 gigabits per second. In fact, T-1 lines are so far down the carriage Totem Pole at&t should be ashamed and embarrassed for even bringing it up. That’s yesterday’s technology Mr. Whitacre! Oops, I forgot, all of at&t’s technology is hopelessly retro.

The final thing that had me running for the aspirin was news of at&t’s legislative pitch in Illinois that grants eminent domain rights to Ma Bell.

“No property owner, condominium association, managing agent, lessee, or other person in possession and control of any improved or unimproved real estate located within such area shall forbid or prevent the holder of a State-issued authorization from entering upon that real estate,” and not just “entering” mind you but connecting and more importantly putting up those ugly stinkin boxes.

Now I understand that in order for me to get water, sewage, electrical, cable and phone, I allow my easement (the one I pay property taxes on) to be used so I can get those services. However, I (if I lived in Illinois) would have to allow at&t to put up their stinkin box on my property even if I didn’t want their service but maybe my neighbor four doors down did?

Oh and by the way, I happen to live in a community that is run by an association. They have some rules about how things go; you can even get fined if you have too much junk in your car port. But according to this legislation, any rules they might have against above ground utilities would be moot.

I am not 100% sure these telecom battles resonate in a world where a good chunk of the population isn’t even allowed to speak their minds or question any or all religious ideals. But I do think there is a slippery slope effect going on here. If we lose PEG (channels, funding, transmission, etc.) and the mainstream media is effectively silenced from commenting on religion for fear of reprisal (violent or otherwise), where then will a discussion either positive or negative take place? And if something I’ve worked very hard to have, a piece of dirt I can call my own, can be commandeered by a phone company, then what is it I really own and why am I working so hard to own it in the first place?

I think the U.N. Human Rights Council has gone stark raving mad, quite a bit crazier than the twenty-four knuckleheaded House members in Illinois who sponsored the eminent domain language. But then again, not nearly as crazy as at&t and its plans to force towns and cities to lease T-1 lines to carry PEG channels. Somebody needs to introduce a resolution somewhere to outlaw this kind of blasphemy.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Georgia On My Mind, Ohio In The Cross-Hair

One week ago I was at a NATOA legal seminar in Alexandria listening to a panel talk about recent statewide franchising laws and proposed statewide franchising laws.

The moderator of that panel was Lou Comer from the Georgia Municipal Association. Being aware of Georgia legislation that was pending, but not terribly certain of the details, I asked Ms. Comer to elaborate on the provisions for Public, Educational and Government access television. Particularly regarding what I had heard was a phase out provision for PEG funding by 2012.

Ms. Comer said that they, the Georgia Municipal Association, had sat down with cities, towns and counties, and those cities, towns and counties were not interested in PEG. I found that somewhat surprising given that in Georgia there is very little P and mostly G. T’would seem that the cities, towns and counties would, at the very least, be self-interested enough to make sure their own government channels were funded.

Comer further verified what I had heard, that indeed the funding would be eliminated by 2012.

I asked where the Georgia Municipal Association stood on the legislation and she said they supported it.

As I stepped away from the microphone and sat down, I realized that a few of my compatriots were spitting up their cappuccinos, and one even had tears running down her face. Not because she was sad but because she was laughing so hard. I guess my questions had inadvertently (or advertently…is that a word?) outed the Georgia Municipal Association for the slimey, squirrelly, double dealing dogs that they really are.


Not at all when one considers that the GMA has figured how to get their hands in the pie. Seems they got written into the legislation a wee provision that they will do the financial audits of the cable companies, for a fee, of course.

Having run nonprofits for many years I am not against creating a non-dues revenue stream, but I really think you should try to do it without being underhanded, and certainly not at the expense of democracy.

Thankfully, the City of Atlanta has come out against the bill, so I guess there’s at least one city, town or county, that thinks PEG is important.

I can’t be one hundred percent sure that the Georgia legislation could ever trump the Ohio legislation that has just been introduced for terms which will gut PEG. In that one, no muni over 50,000 population can get more than three channels and they better be darn sure they are using them the way the video provider tells them to or they’ll get taken away. Twelve hours per day of programming must be shown and no more than eighty percent of it can be repeated or imported.

Does anybody have any idea how much money most access centers have in their budgets? When I was at the Alliance I realized that over one third of our membership were operating television stations on $100,000 or less per year. How can a small center with minimal means produce almost 3,500 hours of new programming each year? And they certainly won’t be able to meet that given that all PEG support will be gone…not some…ALL.

Will anybody stand up and tell at&t (you know they wrote this) and Verizon, that it’s none of their damn business what programming does or does not get shown on PEG? Or if they insist that it is, then we insist they take “Wife Swap” off the air.

Add to that, Ohio suggests that PEG doesn’t even have to be carried on the Basic tier. And, if a provider distributes content through a single head end or “video hub” to a service area that contains multiple municipalities, they only have to provide three channels total, to that entire service area. That tidbit is certainly at&t’s handiwork.

I would go into the definition of gross receipts found in the Ohio bill but I don’t have enough Maalox on hand right now.

I did a tv interview the other day for a public access station. I was talking about some of the things that have been happening and even talking about consumer rights. The woman who was interviewed before me was the director of the library system and she was able to emphasize internet services at the library. Three young men who interviewed after me were discussing how difficult it can be to be a teenager and be gay. The producer who does the show lines up people all on one day and is able to do about eight shows in a row, on every topic imaginable. Many of the topics have actual value in real life applications and as information.

I’ve seen access shows on Lupus, accessibility devices for the elderly, how to lodge a complaint at the board for licensing contractors, the history of the “Arrabers” in Baltimore, general around town kinds of what’s happening out there, when it’s time to get a lawyer, what you should look for in real estate, romance among people with disabilities, fire prevention and safety, lots and lots of second language programming, black men who aren’t thugs and crooks, etc., etc., etc.

But these are not things the Georgia Municipal Association gives a hoot about nor do those knuckleheads in the Ohio legislature who introduced that bill written just for them by their good buddies at Ma Bell. And why should they? There’s plenty of money to be made, it just won’t be made by the municipalities and it certainly won't be seen by the PEG's.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Elvis V. Bennett

I can’t even begin to explain how disgusted I was. I was so lured in, because the previous night PBS had shown a program on Tony Bennett’s recent album, An American Classic, that featured duets between him and some unlikelies, such as Sting, Elton John, Billy Joel and Michael Buble.

And then immediately afterward they had a show on “Rockabilly,” how Rock-n-Roll actually got started in the country music tradition which totally helped me justify my white trash roots. And all of that made me feel so good about PBS I almost wanted to donate.

Then, being duped, I tuned in again to PBS and I thought, until the fund raising pitch relieved me, that I was going to throw up. It was an Elvis concert. But not really an Elvis concert.

This “Elvis” concert (that took me a good fifteen minutes to figure out) was basically old Elvis footage, put up on some Jumbtron while his old band, now gray and crusty, sang back up, live and on stage. Let’s see now, Elvis died in 1977, and I remember it clearly because it was a hot August day and I was pumping gas at some quickie mart in Fresno, California for my 1968 Camaro (at 60 cents or so a gallon) when I heard the news. And here we are, thirty years later, pretending he is live and on stage with his back up singers and a live audience to boot, cheering every song. Good going PBS.

Shouldn't there be some kinda ethic about being a minor player in some dead guy’s fame? That “back up crew” should have been run out of town on a rail or at the very least, thrown into some 70’s VW Van and sent to back to Tupelo to pay penance. And PBS should be thoroughly caned for passing this travesty off as a fund raiser.

But it’s no more a fiction than the FCC Order on Local Cable Franchising.

In it, and this is my favorite part, they say that at&t and Verizon asserted that there were certain local communities that made “unreasonable”demands upon them.


Those demands included filming a Christmas parade. They are right, that’s wacky thing to specify in a franchise contract. Then there’s the money for “wild flower seeds.” That must have come from Oregon or Wisconsin, you know how nutty those people can be for “wild flower seeds.” Then there was something about traffic lights. But then again, as the FCC admitted in the Order, neither at&t nor Verizon ever really provided them with specific examples or ever named communities (especially after they initially did name some towns the first time around and those towns filed reply comments saying at&t and Verizon’s claims were stinking cow manure and the telcos said “oops…we misspoke, it wasn’t you, it was some other town we were talking about.)

But then again, seeing how the FCC never really did get PROOF (which they admit), it was alright since they HEARD the story and the story was enough to convince them (by 3 to 2) that there were unreasonable “demands” being placed on at&t and Verizon because of the horrific stories they had HEARD even though there was no PROOF.

“Boo hoo, boo hoo, FCC’s my baby. Boo hoo, boo hoo, don’t mean she’s crazy.”

Who was that? Elvis or Max Arnold? Maybe it was the FCC. She is your Baby Doll, after all.

Regardless, it is jive.

Jive for the elimination of the level playing field. Cable guys gotta sue.

Jive for the counting of PEG support against the 5%. Munis gotta sue.

Jive for the redlining a-okay, Munis gotta sue with some Equal Opportunity and ACLU types.

Jive for the 90 day shot clock, ain’t there gotta be some contract lawyers in this game?

Jive for the “you there, you getta be there, regardless, mafia approach,” gotta be some imminent domain and takings types up for this on, can anybody say “RICO?”.

It’s juicy, good, great drama and well worth watching and contributing to…not at all like that Elvis, let’s resurrect him from the dead and make money on touring with his talent and success before a live audience, now that we are old and decrepit, video that they showed on PBS (with tax payer funding) tonight.

I’ll take Elvis videos, straight from the crypt or Tony Bennett videos made sometime last year, live and real, over any FCC rulings that are void of actual fact and as deep and wide and long as the Mississippi.

BTW…who was that moron who wrote that order? He/She/It/They should be punished by having to watch that PBS fake Elvis concert fund raising video twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the next three years. If they don’t strangle themselves first.

Yah Baby!

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happiness Is A Warm, Fuzzy Rate Increase

I have the unique pleasure of having not one, but two cable providers, Comcast and Charter. The first is for my home and the second if for this little old beach house we have in Chincoteague Virginia.

Last week, about a day apart, we received notice from both companies that our rates were going up. Not unusual, you say? Well it is if you consider that Comcast has competition (Verizon) and Charter has no competition at all. Trust me, neither Verizon nor at&t are going to be building in Chincoteague anytime soon.

Charter’s notice was a pretty straightforward two page letter with price increases and channel lineup. They said:

“The price adjustments reflect the overall value of our services, including the availability of improved programming and choice, significant savings through our multi-product bundle, and are necessary based on additional investments we’ve made to improve our privately managed network, specifically designed to achieve advancements in customer service and increased network quality and reliability.”

Now I know I can be the Queen of Run-On Sentences, but whoever wrote that has me beat, hands down.

In running down the price list for various of their “improved programming” the increases go from 7% to 100%. They really stick it to those “family” types who were getting the “Family and Information Tier” which they, for whatever reason, decided to re-name “Charter Total View.” And I’m not sure why they even consider it to be a “family” package when it includes MTV, VH-1 and Lifetime Movie Channel (or as my husband calls it the “murder your husband channel.”)

Comcast’s notice was really excellent in graphic design and appeal, slick, full color, but it made me think, why didn’t they just do what Charter did, “Here’s your stinkin rate increase letter,” save the money on the fancy printing so they wouldn’t have to raise my rates at all?

The message of the brochure was clear, happy kids watching TV with a happy Dad or a happy little girl looking over her brother’s shoulder as he happily checks out the “Comcast Fan.” (If you don’t know it’s a video compilation of the day’s top news stories gleaned from CNN, CBS, AP, etc. Real important stuff like how the beauty shop owner refused to shave Brittany’s head and how some town is really steamed at Martha Stewart, I’m sure that little girl was fascinated.)

There were eight pictures in all and everybody in every picture is so damn happy. God I wish I felt like that when I watched TV or surfed the net or used my phone. What is it I am missing? I’ve got Comcast just like they do but I don’t feel exhilarated. Must be a character defect.

Comcast’s rate increases went from 2% to 24%. In this instance they stuck it to the Starz people. Giving Comcast credit they did include a coupon for one FREE pay per view movie, all I had to do is watch it, send in the coupon saying what I watched and boom! Freebie! But the question is what if I watched some “adult” classic, do I really want to write that down and send it in?

I found it curious that both companies informed me the rates were going up March 1. What? Did they all get into a room together and throw a dart at the calendar?

Comcast claimed:

“During the past year, Comcast has invested in its network to offer you more variety, choices and control. We are dedicated to providing excellent customer service, introducing new technology, and offering more choices. We continually enhance our products, and our commitment to product development means that we will always have industry-leading services and features.”

Notice how they both say how much they’ve invested in their networks? They probably came up with that while in that room nailing down the date.

The bottom line is what we’ve always said, rates are not affected by competition so Dick Armey put that in your pipe and smoke it. In Montgomery County Maryland, my southern neighbor, there are three, count ‘em three, “competitors” and all three are raising their rates from 4% to 15% this year. Even old Verizon raised its rates on new customers 7.6%. You’d think Verizon having worked so hard to woo those customers would have wanted to enjoy a honeymoon period before stickin’ it to them.

But hey, they’re all working hard, making investments, improving customer service, bringing you more choices, enhancing their products, offering you savings through their bundle, so shut up and be happy.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Cumulative Leakage

Engineer William Pohts, native son of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (home of Phil) recently explained the “Cumulative Leakage Index” to those of us not in the know. It seems some radio astronomer was having problems with his equipment because the cable was “leaking” in his neighborhood. Bill wrote:

“All systems leak to a certain extent. If the leakage causes interference to certain communications systems, it must be corrected regardless of the level of the leakage.”

Over the past year or so, there’s been some serious leakage and some serious interference with communications systems happening around the country, and as usual the FCC did not require the problems to be fixed, to the contrary, the FCC pretty much blew open the dam. As we wait and wait and wait for the FCC to issue its infamous order giving the phone companies unprecedented power over local government, there is more leakage going on.

For instance, I think my favorite provision in any of the proposed state legislation floating around comes out of Florida. Under that perky piece, consumer complaints would be directed to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. So if they can’t resolve your complaint in an efficient and timely manner you get a free box of navel oranges?

All of the proposed laws (and most of the recently passed ones) are comical in what they require prospective cable operators to provide in the way of paperwork. They want the business address and names of principal officers…big deal. A show of intention to abide by applicable state and federal requirements; and municipal right of way rules…will they be swearing that in with a right hand on a bible? And a description of the geographic area in which it intends to offer service...that’s a tougher one because you’d have to gather all sorts of demographic information on neighborhoods, using zip codes, just to make sure you were really only serving the wealthy neighborhoods.

A regular schmoe who wants to open a shoe repair shop or Italian Ice stand has to go through more paperwork than that. I received a “request for a proposal” to evaluate Public access operations that was an inch thick and required my having a million dollars in errors and omissions insurance, plus a couple dozen affidavits that I had to swear out, just so I could tell them what was great or what was missing in the Public access operations. Needless to say I didn’t bid on that one, it was overkill. But if I had been a cable company, or in most of these cases a phone company, “No problem buddy! Just give us a paragraph or two and you can start setting up boxes, tearing up our streets, running lines up and around wherever your little heart desires!”

Georgia has decided to be a little more stringent in their requirements. They want those three or four paragraphs plus a $500 license administration fee. Wow! Did you know that if you want to be an Interior Designer in Georgia you will be paying $100 to apply and get your wall certificate plus $50 per year to keep your license? Or if you want to be a Geologist in the State of Georgia it’ll cost you about $400 for the licensing and examinations plus the $50 per year renewal? That hurdle for Geologists must have something to do with Georgia’s solemn reverence for Stone Mountain. Funny how the phone companies will be paying a flat fee but Interior Designers and Geologists get dinged by the state on a recurring basis.

It’s a feeding frenzy down there in Georgia. Now that the nut has been cracked open, scavengers are circling with their hands out. The arts community in Georgia, at least one guy anyway, is proposing that of the five percent franchise fee to be paid back to the munis, one full percent is sent to the Georgia Arts Alliance. Never mind the proposed bill includes a provision for eliminating all PEG support in the next five years, money that will have to somehow be made up out of the general franchise fee, the “arts” community wants its cut. I can see them sitting around at that board meeting now.

“Fred, you completely fell down on getting that grant from the National Endowment, now what are we going to do?”

"I know!” says Fred “We’ll go after one percent of the cable franchise fees!”

To wit, the board members ask “What’s a cable franchise fee?”

I think it’s time we start talking about all the stuff going on in the states that have passed statewide franchising. Stuff like how nobody is quite sure how to go about it (Indiana). Stuff like how all the consumer complaints are supposed to go to the Attorney General’s office but they have absolutely no mechanism for handling such complaints (North Carolina). Stuff like how boxes get placed and whether or not they are actually safe (Texas). It’s time to tell these newbie states to cool their jets, watch how it plays out in other states and if the results are good, effective competition, the lowering of cable rates, excellent customer service, then go for it.

It’s time to stop the “Cumulative Leakage.”

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