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.”

Stumble Upon Toolbar