News from the City of Reno's endangered
cable consumer advisory panel

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Andrew Barbano's testimony before
the City of Sparks Citizens Advisory Committee

Sparks City Hall, Council Chamber


I am 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.

       1. 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 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

       2. 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.

       3. 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.

       4. 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.

       5. 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

       6. 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.

       7. 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.

       8. 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.

       9. 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

              In 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 scope.

       10. 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

       11. 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.

       12. 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.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Please feel free to contact me at any time with questions.

Andrew Barbano

Sparks citizens committee holds hearing on Charter franchise renewal

Henderson council postpones vote on third local franchise
Daily Sparks Tribune 11-20 and 11-22-2005

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     Thank you.





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