THE SPARKS CITIZENS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
PUBLIC COMMENT OF ANDREW
a 37-year Nevadan and have served three years on the City
of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee and also on
the Sierra Nevada Community Access
Television (SNCAT) founding board in 1990-91. My comments
today are my own and based on four decades of media experience.
Please take these suggestions in the constructive spirit in which
they are intended. They will save you time and money.
DON'T TRY TO REINVENT THE WHEEL. Reno has completed its process.
Carson City and Washoe County are far ahead of Sparks. Communicate
with them, learn from them, especially from Reno's many mistakes.
Reno's finished documents may be accessed at http://www.cityofreno.com/gov/boards/cccc/?a=1
Many more documents, a complete history of Reno's cable committee
activity, the city's responses, news links and additional background
information may be accessed at http://www.barbanomedia.com/charter.html
FOCUS. For the past several years, I have written in the Sunday
Sparks Tribune that the Rail City must establish a committee specifically
charged with cable responsibility. This is a complex, important
and big money issue. It also involves the most powerful of communications
media, from the local level upward. The first document attached
herewith is a two-page
finding dated 10-7-2005 of Charter's repeated noncompliance with
its new 15-year franchise. After paying $54,000 for a study
of Charter's deficiencies documenting Reno's lack of supervision
and enforcement, Reno has quickly slipped back into not minding
the store. A ratepayer-based entity needs ongoing review authority,
working with city staffers specifically charged with the franchise
oversight, preferably of all city franchises, as noted.
DON'T ASSUME SPARKS IS DIFFERENT. Reno-Sparks-Washoe has one cable
system, just as we have one water system and breathe the same
air. Your agenda this morning will only consider as relevant testimony
from Sparks citizens. However, Charter largely manages itself
as one system. We found that Charter's Vancouver call center cannot
tell which of its complaints come from Sparks and which from Reno.
See Finding 1-B in the Oct.
7 memo to the Reno City Council.
ALLOW FOR RAPID CHANGE. Your franchise MUST allow for new technology
and political pressure. Sen.
John Ensign, R-Nev., has proposed legislation which would eliminate
franchise fees and with them public, educational and governmental
access stations. Truckee is building its own municipal WiFi (wireless
TV/Internet) system, something the cable industry made illegal
in Nevada, but political winds change. Telephone entities now
challenge cable. Satellite providers are not yet competitive.
However, the federal threshold to declare a market competitive
is only 15%. At the prodding of
my committee, Reno joined other local governments in fighting
Charter's application to the Federal Communications Commission
to have this found a competitive market, thus freeing Charter
of the little regulation remaining after passage of the Telecommunications
Act of 1996.
BE FORWARD THINKING. You must build in many more precautions than
did Reno to allow for a potential Charter service collapse. They
are not now in compliance with service standards and have so been
informed by city staff in a letter precipitated by our committee's
research. The company has been in dire financial straits for years
and is currently trying to sell off 420,000 ratepayers. You will
find the backup plan recommended by my committee and ignored by
the Reno City Council at
the city's website and also at http://www.barbanomedia.com/docs04/backup.html
SENIOR CITIZENS. Proper oversight is critical for the most vulnerable
among us. We have tried to get City of Reno staff to prod Charter
to outreach its discount for seniors to no avail.
PROPER OVERSIGHT is not just checking a list to see that reports
have been filed. They must be read and understood. Strong penalties
must be built in for noncompliance. We have developed a reporting
form which staff may use to manage and monitor compliance.
A FRAMEWORK TO BUILD ON. Following the Oct. 7, 2005, letter, you
will find herewith a 17-page working document prepared by the
Reno city attorney's office. It is the closest thing in existence
to a summary of the issues you will face. It may seem long, but
the full record would take up whole filing cabinets. On the workpaper,
you will find the cable committee's recommendations contrasted
with those of the city staff and the company. Pay special attention
to the items Charter termed "deal breakers." Those are largely
the pro-consumer issues we recommended, most of which the city
ignored and to which I commend your special attention.
THE GOLDEN RULE. Beware the siren song of money. Cable companies
are trying to wound competitors at both the Nevada legislature
and in congress. Sen. Ensign's bill is designed to do just that.
If they win complete deregulation, they will enjoy for nothing
the use of city rights-of-way, forcing taxpayers to foot the expenses
to maintain them. The City of Sparks has joined others across
the nation in expressing concern. See the Sept. 6 Daily Sparks
Tribune article at http://www.barbanomedia.com/docs05/ensigntrib96.html
the end, all Reno cared about was upfront cash. "The more years
we gave them, the more money we got," said one anti-consumer
councilman, who also said that Charter should get a 15-year
renewal because "we owe it to the workers of Charter to know
they are going to have jobs for 15 years." Charter moved its
customer service center to Vancouver three months later. If
ratepayer cash for city coffers becomes the sole standard, the
citizens will not be well served and this committee may as well
tell the city that its services are unnecessary. You need to
make sure you have a clear mandate from the council. This committee
wondered about its focus and mission a couple of years ago.
(Sparks Tribune, 9-9-2003) Here's your chance to clarify your
REACH OUT TO AND INVOLVE YOUR CITIZENS. Reno had two televised
town hall meetings before the franchise negotiation began and
one after the draft was published. Sparks needs to do more outreach
to its ratepayers. Has a consultant been hired to do a needs assessment?
If not, the city proceeds from an inferior legal position. Reno
may have ignored its $54,000 study, but such documents are necessary
to provide expert evidence admissable in court if necessary. That
expert must be heeded by elected officials and city staff. The
executive summary of Reno's report, noting that "Charter
failed on every level," is posted at http://www.barbanomedia.com/docs03/chartsepexec.html
TAKE YOUR TIME. Reno unnecessarily rushed its franchise renewal,
frightened that Charter would exercise an option to renew the
anachronistic expired franchise and thus not pay the city any
upfront money. That fear worked. The new franchise was inked less
than three weeks after publication. My hardworking committee colleagues
saw their strongest pro-ratepayer safeguards thrown away in a
4-2 council rush to judgment.
WORK TOGETHER. The city should make the citizens committee an
integral part of the renewal process. We spent many hours working
on a new master cable ordinance (MCO) before we began review of
the franchise itself. The city should also act in good faith and
give the work of the committee due weight in its final considerations.
you for the opportunity to speak.
feel free to contact me at any time with questions.
MORE ABOUT IT
citizens committee holds hearing on Charter franchise renewal
council postpones vote on third local franchise
Sparks Tribune 11-20 and 11-22-2005
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