Monday, July 28, 2008

The Bottom Line

I am a huge fan of persistence. There’s always more than one way to approach an issue and usually more than one way to reach a solution. But I have to take my hat off to at&t for the creative tricks they will employ to mislead, deceive and otherwise cheat local communities.

The latest Ma Bell ploy is to present a “contract” to a local community or access facility in which they agree to carry the PEG channel. It goes something like this:

Whereas, AT&T Indiana agrees to transmit content from the two existing educational PEG channels through AT&T's U-verse TV service using AT&T's Internet Sourced PEG solution pursuant to the terms described in this agreement (the “Agreement”).

The “Agreement” goes on to say that at&t will pay for the transmission of the channel and then charge the cost of that transmission back to the subscriber. And it says that the cost of the transmission of the channel is all that at&t is going to pay for PEG support.

Where do I start?

First, let’s note that the copy of the “Agreement” I received came from a source in Indiana. That’s significant given that Indiana’s Certificate of Franchising Authority (CFA) or statewide franchise, requires a video service provider to provide channels. The same number of channels that were being provided under the existing or incumbent franchises.

The state law that established the CFA’s said nary a word about the operator being able to charge the subscribers for transmission, nor did it say that at&t could charge the cost of transmission against any or all PEG support, or that the cost of transmission satisfied PEG support in the first place. Indeed the state law requires the same amount of support for PEG as was included in existing franchises.

And if there are no channels and no PEG support a local unit of government can petition the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for PEG channels and PEG support.

So basically at&t doesn’t have to “agree” to anything the state law requires them to provide channels and support. Although their “internet sourced PEG solution” is not even a channel and it’s hardly a “solution.” Or maybe it is a “solution,” an erstwhile final solution to PEG channels, the Kaput Solution. (see PEG 0.0 below).

Second, if one is required to transmit a channel cannot one assume that the law meant they were to absorb the costs of that transmission, because if you don’t transmit a channel you are not providing a channel, as per the state or dare I say, federal law? It is assumed that transmission is part and parcel of providing the channel.

For instance, if you say my dog is going to have puppies, aren’t you assuming that at some point the dog actually gives birth to puppies? The puppies don’t just magically appear one day. Even chickens have to lay an egg in order to have baby chicks.

I can’t wrap my head around it.

And so if the PEG entity in question says “I ain’t signin,” are we to assume that at&t says “Ok, then we won’t provide you the channels!” I mean, I would assume that at&t might actually say something that stupid, but most people would realize that it’s a flagrant violation of the law and a flagrant violation of their statewide video franchise agreement.

It is delightful that at&t can go community by community to get these transmission “Agreements” signed but couldn’t bear the thought of going community by community for a franchise agreement in the first place.

I found it interesting that the term of the “Agreement” is only for five years, given there is no term for statewide franchises in Indiana; they go on forever and ever amen. So why five years? What is at&t anticipating could happen in five years? Could it be that they will no longer be in the land line video business but just deliver video via Dish Network? Could it be that they will finally step up to the plate to develop an architecture that actually works and provides PEG channels just like every other channel on their system instead of that 480 x 480 resolution which is lovely for your cell phone but don’t work so hot on your new flat screen? Could it be they think they will be able to crush and destroy all PEG channels over the next five years? Do they know something we don’t about a coming apocalypse that will render such contracts useless anyway?

So this thing is circulating in Indiana, but it is my best guess we shall see identical contracts circulating elsewhere in other states. And after having read all the pieces of state franchising legislation I do not remember a single instance in which PEG operators had to enter in to separate “Agreements” with any video operator. There was plenty of talk about interconnection agreements between operators but not for the transmission of the channels that those laws provided.

at&t really needs to stop Whereasing local communities and abide by the law or they might find themselves Whereased into court.

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