Letters/Frequently Asked Questions



I would like to know why I can't order my cable channels ala carte. I don't watch most of the channels. I don't watch or want 90% of what is offered, but I pay 100 % of the fee. I feel like Jack Nicholson trying to order a cheese omelette with plain toast.

Dear John:

The short answer is that once Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Cable Act, local control over programming and packaging was lost, save for some purview over what is loosely called basic cable. The industry immediately moved its peas under different shells so that "basic" went through the basement, basically what you can get free over the air, plus C-Span, cable access and a couple of lower-interest networks (Home Shopping and QVC, WTBS, the Weather Channel, Discovery and ABC Family, a new name for Rev. Pat Robertson's propaganda machine).

The latter day version of basic is now called expanded basic, available for twice the price. The most our cable panel can do is suggest new packaging to Charter. Their govt. affairs person, Marsha Berkbigler, has promised to listen. She has publicly addressed this issue in the past and given what I call the salad bar excuse — programming is so expensive that they have to feed you a mile of salad before anyone can expect meat and potatoes.

I am forwarding this letter to City of Reno Community Relations Director Steven Wright (775-321-8302, fax 334-2134) to be logged as a formal complaint and to which you should expect a response in due course. Please keep me posted.

Be well. Raise hell.

Copies : Councilmembers Aiazzi and Sferrazza
Deputy City Attorney Jonathan Shipman
City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee members
This communication and the aboveaddressed website represent the views of neither the City of Reno nor the city's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. This is thus not an official communication. Disclaimership inures.


Dear Mr. Barbano:

In your email (Barbwire column in the 1-12-2003 Sparks Tribune) you said this: "At the window next to me stood a gentleman also airing a gripe. Tired of paying for channels not available when he wanted to watch, he ordered major cutbacks in his (Charter) service."

Q: Are you suggesting that this gentleman got some special "relief" or that he just ordered a different standard package?

A: He was complaining about recurrent outages to a point that when he'd try to tune in a program, it wasn't there or would crash in mid-broadcast, a frequent gripe.

Q: By the way, why should the city offer a franchise to any cable company?

A: They have to use city rights of way to lay lines, so the franchise process is necessary, as with the phone and power companies.

Q: Why not just let the companies compete?

A: Anyone can come in and compete. Alas, the unwritten rule among cable providers is that they do everything they can to avoid competition. In the few markets in the country which have true competition, rates nosedive. (On January 21, 2003, consultant Bob Sepe told the Reno City Council that he could see a true competitor applying for a franchise within the next five years.)

    Back when the Truckee Meadows was served by both TCI and Continental Cable, neither wanted to bid on new service areas such as new housing developments in a border area. Each would tell the other to take it, that way they wouldn't get into a bidding war and no one would see what they were really willing to sell for.

Q: And why couldn't the franchise be contingent on lower pricing or on allowing customers to tailor their own choice of channels?

A: Thanks to the Cable Deregulation Act of 1996, pushed by those techie whiz kids Clinton and Gore, most pricing has been taken out of the hands of local authorities. Franchisors may only regulate "basic cable," so the operators restructured basic to include pretty much what comes free anyway.

    The Cable Act was trumpeted as a boon to competition which only someone on serious drugs thought would happen. Instead, cable companies today are largely deregulated monopolies. At the January 15, 2003, meeting of the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, Charter executive Marsha Berkbiglerer said their penetration in the City of Reno is only 52% with 20% going to satellite. In the greater region, Charter's share is about 61%, down about 10%-15% from the 1980s. Anyway you slice it, when an entity has more than 50% of any market, that's a monopoly as defined by the feds and Nevada courts.

Jerry: Thanks for your work on this issue.

AB: You're welcome.


Thanks for the (e-mail) update, Andrew. I'm curious when the upgrades will reach
the northwest Reno neighborhood that I live in.

Dear Tim:

At our Jan. 15 meeting, Marsha Berkbigler said construction in the northwest is complete but some "nodes" throughout the region have not yet been activated and apparently, you're in one. Other nodes are in the north valleys and ArrowCreek in the southwest. She said connection may come as late as March 31, 2003. She added that she'd contact you with an estimate as to your online ETA. I asked her to keep me in the loop.

Be well. Raise hell.



Site designed & maintained by Deciding Factors