of Andrew Barbano
Cable Compliance Committee Regular Meeting
AD LIB (expanded
from memory): I will yield the gavel to the vice-chair and make
the following comments for the record.
I must initially respond to several of Councilman Aiazzi's points.
First, I never called the City of Reno's governmental access television
activities a propaganda machine. I have criticized the City of Las
Vegas and Clark County for denying their citizens public access
while shunting millions of ratepayer dollars into their government
channels which are, indeed, propaganda and re-election machines
and have been roundly criticized as such.
Mr. Aiazzi repeated his remarks from the April 7, 2004, council
meeting that Charter's 300 local workers deserve the security of
knowing they will have jobs for 15 years. In a fire-at-will state,
without a union contract, no one has any job security. This committee
has developed evidence that Charter is an oppressive employer. Had
I any idea that the council would entertain any proposal to help
Charter's workers, I would have suggested that this committee recommend
a living wage requirement in the new franchise, as is being proposed
and implemented right now all over California. [UPDATE
announces closing of Reno call center, fires 40 workers. Aiazzi
continues to defend actions.]
[At this point, Vice-Chair Floyd Dean interjected that if Charter
files bankruptcy, jobs are not secure and that a 15-year franchise
does not ensure job security.]
Chairman Barbano continued: Mr. Aiazzi asserted that to properly
plan for infrastructure expansion, a 15-year term is necessary.
I have stated several times before the council, and the accuracy
of my assertion was confirmed just yesterday by a local professional
with more than 20 years' experience in the cable business, that
the industry standard for accumulated depreciation on new plant
and equipment is five to seven years, maximum.
With the industry changing so quickly, new equipment might be obsolete
in three years or even less.
The Reno City Council did accomplish one good thing when it rubberstamped
everything Charter Communications wanted at its meetings earlier
It showed Washoe County, Sparks and Carson City exactly what to
do wrong, and make no mistake, four members of the Reno Council
ill-served their citizens in their blind pursuit of backdoor taxation.
Perhaps they needed the extra money for the refurbishment of the
black tower downtown into a new, even harder to get to city hall.
Public opinion was very clear from the start on the one central
issue Charter should not be rewarded with a 15-year franchise
after failing completely at every level, as the city's own highly
paid expert proved.
Alas and alack, the city council chose to ignore that expert's advice
almost across the board. Ignoring us poor ignorant citizens is one
thing, but dismissing out of hand Dr. Robert Sepe, who was paid
about $60,000 of taxpayer money, was a travesty.
This was to be expected, especially with one city staffer going
around telling people that Dr. Sepe's report was, and I quote, "garbage."
[AD LIB: I have the documentation and Committee Member Thornsberry
has seen it.]
This committee was originally charged with cable complaints and
franchise contract compliance. Complaint intake was quickly taken
out of our hands after Charter squealed.
We have been censored by city hall but have kept up the fight.
We worked many hours on the new master cable ordinance only to have
Charter ram through changes on April 7 at a council meeting at which
I was not allowed to speak when that agenda item came up.
We have found that we have three entities to fight on behalf of
ratepayers: Charter, the McNeely Administration staff and the city
As I reported in the Sparks
Tribune and Comstock Chronicle on April 11, I thought that for
once a major recommendation of this committee might get somewhere
after Councilman Hascheff agreed that the new franchise agreement
should be sent to the financial advisory board for review.
Mr. Hascheff, an attorney, left for a court appearance and when
he returned he found that the council had given Charter everything
it wanted with no further review. The rubberstamping was led by
councilmembers Dortch and Aiazzi with the concurrence of Councilwoman
Zadra and Mayor Cashell.
Councilmembers Sferrazza and Harsh voted against the franchise,
with Councilwoman Sferrazza noting that Charter should not be rewarded
with a 15 year renewal for bad service.
Here's what we've learned and what I will share with Washoe County,
Carson City and Sparks:
DON'T SELL OUT. Councilmember Aiazzi justified the 15 years
because it got the city more money from Charter. Wrong. It merely
meant Charter was willing to collect more money from you, cash
upon which to float until remission to the city. The council
could have reduced your rates and chose not to do so.
2. LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR. If you
are going to pay for a consultant, as federal requirements pretty
much mandate, listen to that expert. Otherwise, it's an expensive
exercise in cosmetics.
3. INVOLVE THE RATEPAYERS. Do
what Washoe County is doing and continually brief your citizens
committee on the negotiations. In our case, we were treated
like mushrooms despite our twice going before the council waving
red flags about hard evidence that the negotiations were being
mishandled by McNeely Administration staff.
worked around the clock in a very short timeframe when we finally
saw the very flawed franchise deal. We came up with sound suggestions.
Charter's most frequent response to our major recommendations:
that as a compliment that we had done a very good job. Alas,
all the council saw was backdoor tax revenue.
4. TAKE YOUR TIME. This deal was
railroaded through less than three weeks after being revealed
to the public. Shady deals wither in the sunshine. This was
a very dark deal. After
the council's rubberstamping of the corporate wishlist, I heard
from several ratepayers about the nonsensical length given the
company. The technology will undergo a sea change in three years,
while Reno labors under a franchise already obsolete.
President Jenna Bush
will be planning a kegger to kick off her re-election campaign
before Reno gets another shot at its cable franchise.
The public deserved
5. MAKE THIS AN ELECTION ISSUE.
City council. county commission, mayoral and supervisorial seats
are up in this fall's elections in Washoe, Reno, Sparks and
Carson. Sparks needs a citizens panel and I've gathered a list
of people willing to serve.
Carson needs to reconstitute
its citizens committee.
On the state level,
Sen. Joe Neal's SB 278 from
the 2003 session needs to be reintroduced. It would have allowed
the city to take over the cable system in case of a meltdown
from a financially ailing company like Charter. But Cox of Las
Vegas and Charter not only killed the bill, but pulled the ladder
further up behind them. Talk to state assembly and state senate
candidates about this as you see them this year. Tell them that
people are angry. Remember, Charter's inflated rates affect
the pocketbook of every TV viewer whether or not you are a Charter
subscriber. If you buy from any business which advertises on
any TV outlet, free or not, you are paying Charter. See Barbwire.info
On the federal level,
the Telecommunications Act of 1996, hailed by Bill Clinton,
Al Gore and Newt Gingrich as the dawn of a new era of low prices
and increased competition, has failed miserably. The entire
Nevada congressional delegation at that time Harry Reid,
Richard Bryan, John Ensign and Barbara Vucanovich all
voted for it. Reid and Ensign remain in office. Write, call
and talk to them. Tell them to fix this horrendous mistake which
turned Charter and its siblings into deregulated monopolies.
Imagine Sierra Pacific Power with no Public Utilities Commission
or Consumer Advocate's office and you get Charter's free fire
The U.S. Senate already
fired a warning shot across the bow. They've had so many complaints
that they are looking at doing something. Now's the time to
push on the federal level.
You will find complete background and continually updated information
on these issues at (this website).
I encourage you to sign up for the mailing list.
Charter won round one because four councilmembers took a dive.
Round two starts now.
Be well. Raise hell.
me twice, shame on me
tests end-run around regulation
Sparks Tribune 8-1-2004, Comstock Chronicle 8-6-2004
cable TV con jobs
closes Reno call center, fires 40
Councilman Aiazzi re-defends April employment ploy
Sparks Tribune 7-25-2004, Comstock Chronicle 7-29-2004
to CCCC 2004 page
Watch this website and Barbwire
by Barbano in the Sunday Sparks Tribune
and Friday Comstock Chronicle for updates. Click
here to request placement on our mailing list.