by Reno City Hall
Administration short-circuits first broadcast of cable TV consumer
panel meeting and wants independent website taken down
RENO -- Reno senior citizens have expressed outrage over the censorship
of a television program by Reno City Hall.
"My voicemail has been overflowing with calls
from irate viewers who wanted to watch our first televised cable
consumer panel meeting and could not," senior citizen activist
Barbara Stone said. She is a member of the new City of Reno Citizens
Cable Compliance Committee.
most senior citizens on fixed incomes, television is their only
source of information and entertainment. Any interruption is a both
a disservice to them and a threat to citizen participation,"
"Charter Communications rations democracy
according to who can afford to pay the most. Actions like that of
city staff further separate government from the people," Stone
On Friday, city staff ordered
Sierra Nevada Community Access Television not to rebroadcast
Thursday night's public meeting, the first of the new body to be
"I was shocked to turn on my television and
not find the program on Friday," stated cable committee chair
"We notified the ratepayers that the program
would be rebroadcast on Friday and Saturday. Apparently, the McNeely
administration did not like the issues we raised," Barbano
"Citizens should contact
their city councilmembers and demand that the program see daylight'"
"The tape shows city staffers trying to
convince us that the language of our empowering
resolution passed by the Reno City Council does not really mean
what it plainly states. (1)
"City staff asserted that our only role is
one of passive review and advice. They are trying to centralize
information so that our committee sees only what staff wants us
to see. Ratepayer interests drop through the cracks in such an environment"
Stone said that "they didn't stop us from
establishing a complaint committee in January, but now they don't
want us to handle complaints. As I stated at our meeting, city staff
is trying to stop everything we've been doing.
apparently changed after the publication of the city consultant's
$53,903.69 report which shows that Charter has failed at every level
to comply with its current franchise agreement," Stone said.
Barbano noted that "the McNeely Administration
opposed the creation of our panel last year.
"City consultant Robert Sepe's report pointed
out that City Manager Charles McNeely's administration has long
been negligent in enforcing Charter's franchise compliance. The
Reno Gazette-Journal made the deficiencies the subject of a
page one article on Sunday, Feb. 23," Barbano said. (2)
"Since then, we've witnessed an increasingly
adversary attitude from city staff. They are trying to subvert our
committee's work for consumers," Barbano added, "all this
on top of a huge and highly questionable Charter rate increase."
At the Thursday meeting, city staff was critical
of everything committee members have done, from talking with the
media to pushing legislation which would increase the city's power
over the cable company.
"Charter opposes Senate
Bill 278, which would restore to the city a provision in its
current franchise agreement which the industry went to the legislature
and wiped out in 1997," stated committee vice-chair Karol Gorman.
"Dr. Sepe recommended that everything be
done to mitigate the potential impact of Charter's ongoing financial
problems," Gorman noted.
The Reno City Council last week endorsed SB 278,
which was introduced by Sen. Joe
Neal, D-North Las Vegas. It would return to the city the power
to provide cable service.
At the Thursday evening meeting, Gorman pointed
out that Charter's current 15-year franchise gives the city the
power to take over cable operations should the service collapse.
(3) The 1997 law negated that provision.
Dr. Sepe has consistently raised alarms over
the problems which could occur should Charter file bankruptcy. In
his report to the city, Dr. Sepe noted that "Charter's stock
value decreased 90 percent in 2002, with reports that the company's
equity and bonds are trading 'as if the company is bankrupt...'
"It appears that the company's financial
problems could be at the heart of the company's overall failure
to provide Reno residents the most basic level of satisfactory cable
service," Sepe stated. (5) Charter's stock has been recently
trading at under a dollar a share.
"The City of Reno must also anticipate taking
full advantage of various legal and regulatory measures to protect
the community in case of Charter's financial failure, and to ensure
the level of local accountability and service excellence the community
expects of a business located in Reno," Sepe concluded. (6)
summary of Sepe's report, as well as extensive news articles
and links are posted at DecidingFactors.tv, a website owned and
totally funded by Mr. Barbano and which city staff wants taken down.
The site has been plainly disclaimed as unofficial since launch.
"At our next meeting, I will bring my own
video crew so that the McNeely Administration will not be able to
flout the public's right to know and participate," the longtime
media executive and consumer activist stated.
Washoe County has established a similar panel,
but unlike its Reno counterpart, Washoe's five members have direct
responsibility to negotiate the franchise. (7) Sparks has no such
entity, but has informed Reno staff that the Rail City intends to
use its current citizen advisory board as franchise renewal time
"We are doing our best to empower Reno's
negotiators," Gorman said.
SOURCES AND RESOURCES
1. Reno City Council
Resolution no. 6077, 10-22-2002.
of Reno could have prevented cable complaints" by Anjeannette
Damon, Reno Gazette-Journal, 2-23-2003
3. Reno City Code,
Section 5.90.1414 subsection 2
4. Sepe, Robert, Ph.D., Action Audits, City of Reno
Cable Television Community Needs Report, 1-5-2003, page 4.
5. ibid. (in the same publication) at 5.
6. ibid. at 38.
(4-10-2003) I have been informed by a member of the Washoe
County panel that they do not now have negotiating purview, although
that seems to have been the original intent. The name of the body
noted below was recently changed. Here is the memo recommending the
county panel's establishment.
TO: Board of County Commissioners
THROUGH: John Sherman, Finance Director
FROM: John L. Balentine - Purchasing
Appointment of Members to The Ad Hoc "Washoe County Cable TV
Franchise Negotiating Committee"
Board of County Commissioners Agenda, April 9, 2002
Recommendation: It is recommended that the Board of County Commissioners
appoint the following individuals to serve on the Ad Hoc "Washoe
County Cable TV Franchise Negotiating Committee":
Amanda Coulsen by Commissioner Sferrazza
(Since replaced with William Puchert)
Tim Vernon by Commissioner Bond
Stephen Satchell by Commissioner Galloway
John Mitchell by Commissioner Shaw
Dexter Sale by Commissioner Short
Kathy Carter as Vice-Chairperson
John L. Balentine as Chairperson
Background: On September 26, 2000, by Commission Action 00-948,
the Washoe County Board of Commissioners approved the formation
of an Ad Hoc Committee for the purpose of negotiating a new, non-exclusive,
Cable TV Franchise Agreement with Charter Communications. The current
non-exclusive franchise agreement expires at midnight, March 21,
note: Extended for one year on Dec. 17, 2002.)
The Committee was empowered to negotiate a new, non-exclusive Cable
TV Franchise Agreement, subject to final approval and agreement
by the Washoe County Board of Commissioners. This recommendation
is to name the Committee members, and begin the negotiations process.
this website and Barbwire
by Barbano in the Sunday Sparks Tribune for updates.
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