THE CITY OF RENO'S
BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS REVIEW TASK FORCE
December 9, 2004
POSED BY THE TASK FORCE
1. Review the Mission Statement of the Board or Commission.
What value does it offer the citizens of Reno?
RESPONSE OF COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN ANDREW BARBANO: An overview
of the scope of our authority, as presented by the city's consultant,
Robert Sepe, Ph.D., may be viewed at http://www.barbanomedia.com/docs03/scope.html
The committee has consistently and vigorously fulfilled the charge
given it under the revised bylaws,
addressed in order, hereinbelow.
ARTICLE II - PURPOSE
The purpose of the CCCC shall be to serve as an advisor to the
City of Reno ("City")
1. To monitor franchise contract compliance
by each community antenna television ("CATV") company
and to report to the City Council on the status of compliance
at least once per year;
BARBANO COMMENT: We have reported cases of noncompliance
and made other recommendations to the council much more frequently
than the minimum.
2. To review reports filed by each CATV
BARBANO COMMENT: The committee has done so on an ongoing basis
and has consistently and sometimes successfully pushed to obtain
data which Charter Communications has been quite uncooperative
in providing. Committee member Thornsberry's January 2003 request
for information which Charter by contract must provide to the
city took more than six months.
3. To assist in performing rate regulation as
provided under Federal and State laws;
BARBANO COMMENT: This function allowed rapid response when
the committee chair was notified through the national cable advocates'
network that Charter Communications had applied to the Federal
Communications Commission for complete deregulation in Reno, Sparks,
Carson City, Washoe and Clark counties. The chair has been advised
that it is the opinion of some experts that the immediate focus
brought to this issue propelled all the governments involved,
save Clark County, to pool their resources and file objections.
4. If the Committee or a Committee member receives
consumer complaints from the general public, to refer those complaints
to City staff;
BARBANO COMMENT: The city caved in to Charter Communications
demands and removed complaint resolution from the committee's
purview because of the increased accountability an experienced
member of the committee was able to bring to bear.
Before the dilution, this resulted in the committee's initial
and perhaps its most substantial victory. An original committee
member was aware of the case of a Douglas County entrepreneur
whose high speed cable modem service was canceled by Charter when
he complained of a service failure at his home. He made the mistake
of telling Charter that he urgently needed his service restored
because he needed to upload a large packet of data to a client
in California. Charter informed him that the company did not provide
high-speed cable modem to businesses, home-based such as his or
otherwise, and permanently cancelled his high speed broadband
This case was mentioned in our first meeting in December of 2002
when we were parceling out subcommittee assignments. Business
broadband was made a priority. (No Charter representative was
present.) By the time of our January, 2003, meeting, Charter announced
to the committee that it was now providing high speed cable modem
to businesses. Problems with high speed broadband had been brought
forward by Andrew Barbano in 2002 public meetings held to determine
Charter's level of service. Mr. Barbano noted that poor high speed
Internet service constituted all the reason a relocating company
would need to decide not to come to Nevada.
Several local businesses, including those run out of residences,
remarked to the chair about their pleasant surprise at Charter's
seemingly inexplicable and rapid turnaround of a longstanding
policy of blacking out area businesses from high speed broadband
Internet. If the committee never accomplished anything else, this
would have been enough.
5. To review and advise the City Council regarding
CATV companys complaint resolution process;
6. To review and advise the City Council regarding
the Citys complaint resolution process;
BARBANO COMMENT REGARDING 5 AND 6: The committee serves
as the only unconflicted advocate (see below) for the ratepayers
of the City of Reno. Its ability to review complaint and compliance
issues remains critical to ensuring accountability by both city
staff and the cable company.
7. To make recommendations to the City Council
about the performance of each CATV provider so that the best information
is available to the City in case of a minor or major default,
and when preparing for a renewal of franchise, permit, license,
contract, certificate, or agreement;
COMMENTS OF COMMITTEE MEMBER NOEL THORNSBERRY: The committee
Participate in the revision of the city's Master Cable Ordinance
2. Offer numerous recommendations to the
city for use in its negotiations of the franchise agreement
between the city and its only cable operator, most of which
3. Successfully recommend the following
policies and procedures now in place:
by the council of specific cable responsibility to an administrative
unit within the city's organizational structure;
of certain reports indicating cable subscriber dissatisfaction
(reports from both the city's RenoDirect system and from the
C. The aggressive
pursuit by the city to ensure that technological requirements
are tested for, are met and are corrected, as required;
the issue of the deficiencies with the Emergency Alert System
as presently configured and utilized by the local cable company;
conducted a long hearing/workshop with state and federal EAS
representatives and city staff.
LONG-RANGE PLAN: Provided to the city a synopsis of the
negatives to the city attributable to the removal from the
city scene of the present cable operator, or by the present
cable operator changing its technological approach to the
delivery of its service.
BY BARBANO: Given fast-breaking new technology, a prejudicial
new 15-year franchise agreement and Charter Communications' chronic
financial troubles, we have advised the city to develop a long
range cable backup plan in conjunction with Sparks and Washoe
Further complicating matters is Charter's new digital system in
Long Beach, Calif. The company recently unveiled technology to
bypass any cable regulation by calling everything broadband Internet
City staff, as always, has recommended that the council turn down
the citizens committee's very detailed proposal.
is my letter to Councilmember Aiazzi regarding the tabling of
the long range plan on Oct. 13, 2004:
5:50 p.m. PDT
Regarding: Citizens Cable Compliance Committee (CCCC) recommendation
that the city implement a long range backup plan to ensure
continuity of cable TV service
The Hon. David Aiazzi, Member
Reno City Council
Dear Councilman Aiazzi:
Per your statements at this afternoon's Reno City Council
meeting wherein you noted that the CCCC has gone outside
its purview in recommending the long-range cable TV backup
plan (upon which the council took no action), I refer you
to Article II of our bylaws,
Your Citizens Cable Compliance Committee has reviewed that
issue several times in public meetings. It appears well
within our charter to formulate and make such a recommendation
and that no amendment to our bylaws is necessary. (See the
Article II statement of purpose and sections 7, 8 and 10.)
The council, of course, can ask us to perform any task and
we would be happy to go forward. We think the long range
plan is of utmost importance for the reasons delineated
in committee, in print commentaries and testimony before
If, as you stated, you think it too much of a burden on
city staff, I think your citizens committee will certainly
be willing to roll up our sleeves. Of course, there are
some things city staff can do which we cannot, so some of
the activity must by its nature be a collaborative effort.
I will agendize this for discussion at our regularly scheduled
October 28 meeting (New City Hall, 6:30 p.m.). I look forward
to seeing you there and to move this matter forward before
the council in the next month. It would be helpful if the
city staff research which the council requested today could
be completed in time for our October session.
City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee
ec: Mayor and Council
Citizens Cable Compliance Committee
BY-LAWS OF THE CITIZENS CABLE COMPLIANCE COMMITTEE (continued)
8. To encourage the widest and most innovative
development of CATV service to the public working with CATV providers,
any public or private group, organization, or person; and,
COMMENT BY BARBANO: For most of our first year, the only
Internet presence for our committee and its functions was provided
by an unofficial website which I
established and continue to maintain at my own expense. Council
liaison Aiazzi has praised the information resource. It provides
ratepayers, advocates, governmental agencies and any others the
most comprehensive and current picture of what's happening in
the industry in Nevada and the region.
9. To review and make recommendations to the
City Council regarding CATV discounts for economically and socially
COMMENT BY BARBANO: Committee members Barbara Stone and
Noel Thornsberry have been very active in protecting the interests
of senior citizens and other deserving ratepayers. The above discounts
are endangered by Charter's FCC application for deregulation.
10. To perform such other tasks as the City
Council might direct regarding CATV.
CONTINUING WITH THE QUESTIONS POSED BY THE TASK FORCE:
2. What are some of the key areas of focus for the coming year?
Experts who have reviewed the joint governmental response to Charter's
FCC application for complete deregulation have noted that Charter
may very probably prevail. This committee has no counterpart in
Sparks or Carson City. Washoe County's committee meets irregularly.
It will be up to Reno's committee to provide leadership in mitigating
the effects of complete loss of regulatory authority, which include,
but are not necessarily limited to:
Uniform pricing will become a thing of the past. Charter
will be able to implement the equivalent of Sierra Pacific
Power charging Sparks customers less for natural gas than
customers in southeast Reno.
B. Charter will be free to sell below
cost, a variant of what ARCO does lowball the price
in a certain zone of town to drive out an independent retailer.
C. Charter will be able to eliminate
senior discounts and any potential for buy-through availability,
which is ala carte pricing. (In early 2003, Charter told
the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee that
they were in the process of
implementing a "skinny basic" service, basically
a lifeline rate. Once such a structure is in place, they can
offer "buy-through," e.g., a customer who qualifies
can purchase skinny basic and HBO only. It never happened.
The Bush FCC squashed an ala carte proposal last month.)
Communities have regretted
failure to object. Some residents of Citrus County, Florida,
were outraged when they found their cable operator charging
one neighborhood less for the same service. The FCC told them
they should have objected when they had the chance. Simi Valley,
California, experienced rate increases three or four times
This brings up a longstanding
public utility consumer complaint: unfair subsidy of one group
of ratepayers by another.
This maneuver, combined
with the industry trend to define everything as deregulated
high-speed broadband Internet and thus exempt from any regulation
or franchise, portends great danger for ratepayers. Charter's
Long Beach, Calif., system is a model for facilitating such
Within 24 hours of the
publication of the chairman's comments, above, in the Daily
Sparks Tribune and on the Internet, Charter Vice-President
Marcia Berkbigler told the Carson City Nevada Appeal and local
television stations that the company was again looking at
Skinny Basic. Shades of the 2003 residential high speed cable
The Carson City newspaper
reported the following on Nov. 23 regarding the deregulation
attempt: "Charter would no longer be required to offer
a basic cable package and could require residents to buy more
expanded packages to get basic services.
"'They could also
do negative-option billing,' (Chief Deputy District Attorney
Mark) Forsberg said. 'It's charging you for something you
might not want, like a cable box, unless you say you don't
Charter could also bill customers for increased amounts based
on location," reporter Robyn Moormeister wrote. (More
on the deregulation issue.)
The chair has already begun forming a strategy to bring to
the council and staff should deregulation be granted.
3. Why is it beneficial to keep the Board or Commission?
We are the only unconflicted advocate for the ratepayers. The
city expedited approval of a 15-year franchise for Charter against
the committee's recommendation that it first be reviewed by the
city's financial advisory board.
Two principal reasons were given for the expedited 15-year agreement.
First, on the day of ratification, Councilmember Aiazzi stated
that Charter's employees should be reassured that their jobs would
be guaranteed for the next 15 years. Charter closed its call center,
putting 40 Nevadans out of work, within three months.
Mr. Aiazzi later told the committee that Charter was unaware of
an option to renew for 10 years. Had the company exercised the
option, the city "would have gotten nothing." (The committee
has since developed information that Charter was very much aware
of the option but saw advantages in a new agreement rather than
continuing under the 1988 contract.)
The city's driving force in giving Charter 15 years was admittedly
monetary. The council was informed that the longer term brought
more quick cash to the city coffers. The committee argued for
a reduction in franchise fees charged to ratepayers, principal
source of the city's money.
Ratepayers often hurl a baseless allegation against the Public
Utilities Commission and the state consumer advocate's office
that since both are funded by the mill tax on utility bills, a
conflict of interest exists. That criticism is well-founded with
respect to cable television, as councilmembers and staff have
placed in the official record of the Charter franchise renewal.
The outreach and communications networks formed by the members,
combined with their experience in these issues, have proven very
beneficial to the ratepayers and will be increasingly important
as communications technology changes while the city is saddled
with a franchise which is already obsolete in parts.
4. Would it be more effective for the NAB (Neighborhood Advisory
Board) to do this work?
No. The city is one big cable neighborhood and we are the advisory
5. Would it be more effective for a City, County, or State
organization to do this work? If not, why?
No such organization exists. We advocate coordination and communication
with Carson City and Washoe County and have long chided Sparks
for not establishing a citizens committee in advance of the looming
expiration of its franchise. That said, each governmental entity
negotiates its own franchise with different demands and requirements.
Cable television is basically a federal to local enterprise. Since
the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we are informed that various
state agencies have very little authority to deal with cable issues.
(For instance, the Bureau of Consumer Protection might be persuaded
to look into widespread consumer fraud.)
6. Do meetings track the posted agenda?
COMMENT FROM COMMITTEE MEMBER NOEL THORNSBERRY: For the
most part, and it's getting better now that the "hot"
issues" have been completed.
7. Besides more money, what would make the Board or Commission
The councilmembers and staff should re-read Dr. Sepe's $54,000
study on Charter Communications' operations,
most of the major recommendations of which the council has
chosen to ignore. The executive summary with those recommendations
is available at http://www.barbanomedia.com/docs03/chartsepexec.html
B. A constructive
attitude by the council and the McNeely Administration.
Aiazzi, the council's liaison to our committee, has stated,
that City Manager Charles McNeely and his staff do only
what the council orders them to do. If that is indeed the
case, then the single best thing that the council can do
is to order staff to be more receptive to the committee's
recommendations rather than acting almost as representatives
of the cable company. This reinforces the conflict of interest
noted in the response to question no. 3, above.
advised the council against granting continuing short term
extensions to Charter's expired franchise without getting
anything in return for ratepayers.
of this committee spent countless hours reviewing and making
recommendations for a new franchise agreement bearing the
greatest benefits and protections to the citizens of the
City of Reno. Had the council heeded the recommendations
of the committee with respect to many of the provisions
of the franchise, Reno would be in a contractually much
stronger position today in challenging Charter's FCC application
for complete deregulation, an impending consumer disaster.
would also not be subject to a 15-year agreement which is
already obsolete in part.
CCCC meetings back on television. In its recently
concluded contract negotiations with Sierra
Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT/The Media
Center), the city failed to provide for continuing the cablecasting
of Citizens Cable Compliance Committee meetings. The Youth
City Council was also excluded. Councilmember Jessica Sferrazza
has informed the chair that these were oversights which
will be corrected.
SUMMATION BY ANDREW BARBANO, CCCC CHAIR:
In retrospect, the committee's relationship with the city and
Charter has evolved into an adversarial one, and that's good.
The public utility regulatory process is an adversarial process,
with utilities attempting to maximize stockholder rate of return
and the consumer advocate's office making the case most advantageous
to the ratepayers. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission and
its staff are analogous to the Reno City Council and their staff,
although, as noted above, Reno has a financial conflict of interest
which the PUC does not.
Charter's new 15-year franchise, evolving technology and the company's
current attempts to end-run any regulation give the city the prospect
of decreasing revenue from a technologically expanding business.
Members of this committee sparked the introduction of pro-consumer
legislation during the 2003 Nevada legislative session, a bill
which the City of Reno and the council endorsed. Had Charter not
killed the bill, Reno ratepayers would be in a significantly stronger
position given the events of 2004.
The interests of the ratepayers are best served by keeping the
ratepayers' consumer advocates in place.
Respectfully submitted on this Ninth Day of December, 2004, by
Andrew L. Barbano, Ratepayer and Chair
City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee
P.O. Box 10034
Reno, NV 89510
[fn: H12/8 CCCC Overview/city of reno/ charter/opsn4]
The City of Reno's Boards and Commissions Review Task Force recommended
that the Citizens Cable Compliance Committee be eliminated. The
task force agreed with McNeely Administration staff that city
employees could do the job and that the committee is unnecessary.
At its meeting of 23 Feb. 2005, the Reno City Council voted down
the recommendation to kill the cable panel.]
OF RENO STAFF OVERVIEW AND RECOMMENDATION THAT THE CITIZENS
CABLE COMPLIANCE COMMITTEE BE GUTTED
THE OCTOBER 10 BARBWIRE
IN THE DAILY SPARKS TRIBUNE:
CHARTING THE FUTURE AT CITY HALL.
On lucky Oct. 13 at the new downtown black tower,
the Reno City Council will hear a recommendation
from its Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, which
I chair. Given fast-breaking new technology, a prejudicial
new 15-year franchise agreement and Charter
Communications' chronic financial troubles,
we have advised the city to develop a long range
cable backup plan in conjunction with Sparks and
I reported on Aug. 1, further complicating matters
is Charter's new digital system in Long Beach, Calif.
The company recently unveiled technology to bypass
any cable regulation by calling everything broadband
City staff, as always, has recommended
that the council turn down the citizens committee's
very detailed proposal. I need your support. Contact
the council, three of whom are seeking re-election,
and tell them to give us some insurance against
a major new abuse of consumers by our local cable
monopoly. If you can't make it to the meeting, you
will be able to see reruns through the weekend on
SNCAT cable channel 13. Full details and contact
info at DecidingFactors.tv.
contact info for mayor, council & key staff
Confused by Councilman Dave Aiazzi, the council takes
slush fund revealed
13 RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL OP-ED: CITY
NEEDS A BACKUP CABLE PLAN by Andrew Barbano and Barbara
should get out of TV business
Gazette-Journal Editorial 9-17-2004
Committee wants backup plan
Reno Gazette-Journal 9-16-2004
financial problems continue
Daily Variety 10-8-2004
to information about
the August 26,
2004, CCCC meeting
2003 legislative fight to change some
of the anti-consumer laws noted above
potential plan to avoid the meager remains
of regulation and access TV support
firms attempt to be relieved of franchise fee payment
on cable service
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