COMMENTS OF ANDREW BARBANO
BEFORE THE RENO CITY COUNCIL
We have a new tabu at
the Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. Any agenda item with
the word "franchise" included is surgically excised
by the city attorney prior to publication. Nontheless, here I
stand again today, treading where we have been told not to step,
and for very good reason.
Like you, we are concerned about the best interests of cable ratepayers.
When we see non-compliance, we feel compelled to act, to speak,
to report, to advise. We have found Charter Communications out
of compliance for not properly notifying ratepayers about where
to lodge complaints. We have passed a resolution asking the council
to order qualified Charter representatives to attend our meetings.
We think our inputs on those items should be on the table in the
current franchise negotiations, rather than trying to add them
when the final document is finally made available for public review.
When we saw what we perceived as evidence of weakness in the secret
negotiations with Charter for a new master franchise agreement,
we came before you in September with a recommendation that you
not grant them an extension of the current franchise without substantial
concessions. The extension was granted, but thankfully only for
90 days, not the full year recommended by staff.
Seeing the very questionable recommendation to grant a year for
apparently nothing in return, we asked that a member of our committee,
sworn to secrecy from other members if necessary, be placed as
an observer in the negotiations. The council rejected that recommendation
by a 7-0 vote.
In the alternative, we asked that Dr. Robert Sepe, the city's
cable consultant, become heavily involved in the negotiations
to add weight to the team so assigned, a group which intentionally
does not include the city's most experienced cable executive.
This council was assured on Sept. 24 that Dr. Sepe had been so
involved. However, a review of his billings show that he has spent
13.74 hours reviewing franchise drafts between August 21 and October
31. That's about four and a half hours a month. We are certainly
glad he's being consulted, if only apparently at long distance
in North Carolina. Is that enough? We don't know. But today, you
have before you another staff recommendation to once again unilaterally
extend Charter's franchise, again apparently without additional
Opening up the process and raising a public profile can bring
forward resources available in the community we may not know we
have. When the cable committee questioned the extension in September,
we received the following comments from someone heavily qualified
in the area of such regulation. I quote:
"I have no idea why the city would consider granting an
extension without receiving some consideration in return. Pursuant
to federal law, if the franchise lapses, it continues, like an
apartment rental lease. month-to-month or year-to-year (depending
on how often Charter remits franchise fees to the city) until
it is revoked. The revocation process is known as a 'formal renewal,'
so there is no compelling need for a city to extend a franchise
except to grant a favor to the cable company.
"Cable companies, like Charter, 'need' franchises to placate
their creditors. Creditors demand that operators have franchises
to secure their loans and guarantee repayment. The city is in
the best bargaining position when the franchise has lapsed because
the company is under pressure from creditors to cut a deal. So,
I ask, what consideration has Charter offered in exchange for
the extension? Capital equipment for PEG?* Operational funds for
PEG? More PEG channels? A rate freeze?
"The extension gives Charter another year in which to whittle
down and dilute the terms of the proposed agreement and the provisions
of the cable standards ordinance.
"If the purpose is to synchronize the renewal process with
the County and Sparks and form a combined negotiating team, and
negotiate identical franchises for all three local governments,
well, then a one-year extension makes sense. The risk is that
the minimum becomes the maximum. Otherwise, there is no good reason
to grant an extension."
Will the ratepayers obtain any benefit from this apparently gratuitous
extension? We don't know. We hope so. Would the community benefit
from some opening up of this negotiation process? Based on the
evidence at hand, I think so.
is the best disinfectant.
Based upon the Citizens Cable Compliance Committee's unanimous
resolution in opposition to the previous extension back
when we were still allowed to place such issues on our agenda
we again ask you not to pass item 5D. In the alternative,
get something for it.
These comments have been unofficially posted at DecidingFactors.tv.
I ask that they be included verbatim in the record today.
*Public, Educational, Governmental access channels (SNCAT)