EXPOSED! The problem with your cable TV is me

Expanded from the 3-23-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune

At long last, the story can be told. The problem with Charter Cable is me. This opinion is shared both by megabucks cable companies statewide and the McNeely Administration at Reno City Hall.

I once thought that asking the city council to establish a consumer advisory board was a good idea. Little did I know that it would threaten the new world order.

The McNeely Administration fought the establishment of what is now called the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. It didn't take much more than a suggestion from me to get the council to act. Charter Communications has been a pain in the city's collective rump for years.

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Las Vegas Review-Journal March 26, 2003

When the panel was appointed and met for the first time in December, the membership, chairman. I can't vouch for myself, but the other six represent and excellent cross section of community interests and professional expertise.

We got immediate results. In that inaugural meeting, one of our members revealed that Charter refused to provide high-speed Internet access to businesses. We were told the nightmarish story of a software designer who worked out of his home. His service went down and he pleaded for help. Turns out he had to deliver a big job to Silicon Valley in 48 hours. To his shock, Charter asked him if he was running a business out of his home.

The guy should have lied. When he told the truth, they permanently disconnected him. Before any of us could bring up the issue at our January meeting, Charter announced that it was finally making high-speed Internet service available to businesses. As I told city leaders last year, if you hope to diversify your economy, just the news that state of the art web access is questionable is enough to kill any interest.

Very few people had access to the above information, as our meetings were not televised. That was supposed to change last month, but the McNeely Administration canceled our meeting.

Things got worse. City staff requested a sitdown with me to coach me about the error of my ways. I wanted my vice-chair and recording secretary to attend. No way.

Then, the awful truth: They are not the problem. I am.

Jawhol. Yours truly is committing sins the bureaucracy finds unforgivable. I am sending e-mails. Handling consumer complaints after Charter made life so miserable for the board member in charge that she quit, an absolutely tragic loss for us. Her problem was that she knew Charter's operations too well and they stonewalled her.

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Then they found out that Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, had requested legislation to allow cities and counties to take over errant cable systems. War was declared. Notwithstanding the Reno City Council's endorsement of Senate Bill 278, a City of Reno lobbyist told Sen. Randolph Townsend's, R-Reno, committee last Friday that "Mr. Barbano does not speak for the City of Reno."

All I can say to that is that the city didn't propose some seriously needed legislation, I did. As I personally informed the council last Tuesday, my board was scheduled to take up the issue last month, had not staff cancelled the meeting.

Cox Cable in Gomorrah South and Charter have gone into full Shock and Awe defense. They have raised the same bogus threat they used in 1997 to create the law barring cities and counties from taking over cable systems. (Some 511 communities now control their own. In Glasgow, Kentucky, the full digital service which costs Sparks-Reno consumers about $80 a month costs only $19. Read more about it.)

Without Sen. Neal's bill, Charter ratepayers stand in danger of cable meltdown. Charter is close to bankrupt. They are chronically understaffed. The City of Reno's own consultant found them in violation of their franchise for years and that the city did nothing to hold their feet to the fire. Charter executive Marsha Berkbigler called the city report "a lie" last Friday and chastised me for disregarding her detailed rebuttal. Turns out that city staff never bothered to forward her rebuttal to my board. I await it eagerly.

The agenda for our meeting this Thursday night is full, not with items we need addressed, but questions about my conduct. Apparently, the McNeely Administration is so ticked about the negative publicity that it's doing just what Charter would like: make me the issue instead of the company. (Compare my draft agenda with theirs.)

Tune in to SNCAT TV-13 Channel beginning at 6:30 p.m. thus Thursday for what promises to be rousing TV. The meeting will repeat at least twice, on Friday at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday at 3:00 p.m. I have been promising consumers live phone calls as part of public comment and expect the city to provide the service. Although staff has questioned even that, no panel member has ever voiced objection. [UPDATE — city staff would not allow live phone calls and re-broadcasts of the meeting were cancelled. Zapping public meetings is something Reno City Hall has always considered an art form.]

I'VE FOUND SADDAM HUSSEIN. What's the safest place in Iraq in wartime? Answer: The Al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, home base to all the international reporters. Nary a piece of shrapnel got near there in 1991. Check out the tall, new busboy with the recently shaved mustache. Like his troops in 1991, he can surrender to CNN.

COMBAT PAY. The best position I've seen on the war remains one which came from a reader to the late, great San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen in 1991: "I'm pro-life."


Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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Copyright © 2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and He hosts Deciding Factors on several Nevada television stations. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.



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