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Charter cable channels 16 and 216 in Reno-Sparks-Washoe
bandidos admit to their greed
Expanded from the 8-17-2008 Daily Sparks Tribune
Updates: 8-20-2008, 8-24-2008
Thanks for the help. Last week, more than 200 community access television viewers and producers called Charter Communications only to be shunted to Canada by the company's voice mail hell system. The Canucks couldn't handle the action but Reno's corporate offices weren't taking any calls.
"What is most stunning is the arrogance and intractability of these people," one producer wrote me.
In case you've missed it, Charter plans to move public, educational and government (PEG) television channels to the digital tier on Aug. 26. It will all but buy the coffin for the system I helped save from extinction in 1991 as a member of the Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) founding board.
People don't surf above channel 179 because so little is placed there. Here's what happened when Charter put the Truckee Meadows Community College channel in cyber-Siberia.
"I suggest that you contact Fred Lokken, Dean of Technologies," wrote a fellow TMCC professor.
"For many years, he directed putting numerous college classes on access channels for the public to watch. The response was extremely positive and enthusiastic with numerous students enrolling from home and the public at large watching these shows. A couple of years ago, Charter moved the college channel to 200. It killed the program. It no longer exists because of this decision. I applaud you for your efforts for the community."
A couple of weeks ago, SNCAT Executive Director Les Smith stated that the TMCC channel "was originally designated to be brokered by SNCAT and populated with programming from the University of Nevada, TMCC and the Washoe County School District.
Updated math behind the move
Charter Communications plans to illegally move four channels of analog to the digital tier.
One channel of analog bandwidth accommodates two to 10 channels of digital programming, depending on the complexity of the streams. High-definition movies eat up a lot of bandwidth.
A Charter statement quoted on TV-4's Aug. 4, 2008, 11:00 p.m. newscast said that Charter is doing this to "free up more bandwidth for high definition channels."
Charter thus gains bandwidth for between 8 and 40 digital channels by banishing community TV to the digital tier, a net gain of 4 and as many as 36, depending on content.
Charter VP Marsha Berkbigler, in her first speech to the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee in Dec. 2002, said each additional channel is worth $1 million a year to Charter and that's at 2002 prices.
So Charter stands to make between $4 million and $36 million by doing this, unadjusted for inflation.
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"TMCC produced programming and put classes on the channel to start with," Smith said.
"But after Charter failed to follow-through with a promise to provide special digital boxes for students, the audience for channel 200 basically dropped to zero. So, TMCC gave up and they havent put any new programming on the channel for the last couple of years."
The other PEG channels may suffer the same fate if Charter isn't stopped in court.
I told the Reno City Council last week that at a time when the state budget crisis is collapsing our entire educational system, the one cost-free resource, in place and available to help, is being assassinated by corporate greed.
As I wrote on Aug. 10, many Charter subscribers will be deprived of something they've already paid for. The community television system has been built and operated by the franchise fee in your cable bills for almost 20 years. Now, Charter wants to charge you more money to see your own property.
Charter's point grease man George Jostlin admitted to the Reno Gazette-Journal (8-15-2008) that the move is purely about corporate profit, as I have documented for the past two weeks. They can cash the community access bandwidth for big bucks.
Charter is moving channels 13, 15, 16 and 17 to the premium digital tier. You will need to rent a digital converter box to get them and unless you are a very adventuresome do-it-yourselfer willing to pick it up yourself, you will also get stuck with a $29.99 installation fee for the privilege of paying the pirates their monthly pound of flesh. Adding insult to injury, you'll also keep paying the same franchise fees even if you don't rent the box. (This has nothing to do with the converters necessary next February for conventional TV sets receiving signals through the air. If your set is cable-ready and you subscribe to only basic or expanded basic, you will not need a converter box no matter what happens with over-the-air digital TV. Charter is responsible for a lot of public confusion as a subterfuge to lay the blame on the feds.)
According to Les Smith, Charter is stretching wording in a state law passed in 2007 "as a get out of jail free card."
I submit that Charter's actions are both unethical and illegal.
Many of those who called Charter last week also e-mailed Reno City Hall. About an hour's worth of angry ratepayers followed up with impassioned pleas before the council on Thursday. (You can view the re-run on Charter channels 13 and 213 from 10:00 to 11:00 this morning. See it while it's still free.)
Councilman Dave Aiazzi asked that the issue be formally agendized for this Wednesday's meeting and requested that the city attorney present options for legal action.
My consumer guerrillas will go to court anyway. I have been too often disappointed by the actions of governments at all levels to wait for them to move in such a short time frame. An experienced attorney and a paralegal are donating their valuable time and we can use any and all additional assistance.
Even if we get all legal work donated, there are still substantial costs involved in fighting these horse thieves.
Please help if you can and thanks to those who have already joined the campaign.
If you can afford it, please go to ReSurge.tv to contribute via credit or debit card or send your check payable to ReSurge.TV to P.O. Box 10034, Reno NV 89510.
Stay tuned to my daily call-in program and show up at Reno City Hall this Wednesday if you can. Call and write if you can't.
Or do all of the above.
You may also call me during the show at (775) 682-4144.
CORRECTION: Last week's figures for the cost of basic and expanded basic were slightly off, probably reflecting discounts or added taxes. Charter's retail price for basic service is $19.99 per month, expanded basic costs $52.99. Taxes and fees are additional.
MY EXPANDING FAN CLUB. I take comfort in the knowledge that my cable and web TV show has lots of viewers at Charter corporate. They appear to be doing their best to make sure my audience doesn't grow. On Charter's TV Guide listings, all of the access channels save one carry references to their proposed new digital homes. Only Channel 16, home of both my show and all the community group programs, has no reference that it is also available at Channel 216.
The Dragon Lady and her pups remain infamous in their pettiness.
DON'T FORGET: This Saturday is the 40th anniversary celebration of the construction of Pat Baker Park in northeast Reno, built to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the year of his death. When the rest of the country was in flames, Pat Shannon Baker was promoting peace and understanding here in Mississippi West. To contribute and/or participate in the all-day event at the newly renovated facility, call Lonnie Feemster at 425-3831 or see renosparksnaacp.org.
Be well. Raise hell.
Reno city council votes unanimously to sue Charter to keep community TV accessible
Resurge.TV will also file
FROM LES SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Sierra Nevada Community Access Television
Please send at least ten other people this notice and editorial.
MOVING COMMUNITY ACCESS CHANNELS A LOSS OF PUBLIC TRUST
Charter Communications is moving Reno 13, Sparks 15, public access 16 and Washoe County 17, will be moved to the digital tier and beyond the reach of most of their viewers.
Why should that be important to Charters subscribers or the rest of the people who dont subscribe to Charter Cable?
The simple answer is that these are your channels, given to you by federal law. Cable operators are required to provide public, education and government (PEG) channels as a way of making public service programming available on the cable system without having to create public-service programming themselves. These channels are part of the public trust. They are your "property," just like the national forest or monuments in Washington D.C.
Most cable operators, like Charter, dont share the sense of obligation to the community that their predecessors did. Cable operators have been railroading laws though state legislatures, relieving them of having to negotiate franchise agreements with the local communities. New statewide franchise laws still require cable operators to provide PEG channels. But, there is no guarantee of where on the cable spectrum the PEG channels will go.
The biggest downside to this move is for local government, community organizations and producers who count on easy and affordable access for their viewers. Federal law requires that these channels be easily accessible and available at the cheapest rate. Moving PEG channels up to the digital tier adds complexity and difficulty to watching these channels. And, the cost of the digital box is a huge jump in price over the basic cable rate.
There is a small, but important core of regular viewers who will be cut off from PEG channels, because they cant afford a 25% increase in their cable fees. Moving PEG channels also effectively puts them out of reach of other PEG viewers, who cruise the basic cable tier.
Imagine a small, downtown park, surrounded by banks, boutiques, condos and shops. Parents bring their children to play here, church groups socialize, government officials meet, community organizations hold events, buskers perform and families from all over town come to enjoy the activities. The park has history, culture and tremendous community value.
Then, a developer convinces the legislature that its too much trouble dealing with the city on development. Now, the developer only deals with the state. The new law guarantees a park, but it doesnt say where it has to be. So, the developer moves the park to an area five-miles out of town. And, to facilitate the move, an entrance fee will be charged. It isnt hard to imagine what would happen to visitation at the park. And, where will the people who live in town to meet with government officials, participate in community events and activities?
The people of the Truckee Meadows wouldnt stand for a developer perpetrating such a violation of the public trust. Why should they allow Charter to do the same thing with their PEG channels?
The above commentary appeared as a guest editorial in the 8-15-2008 Reno Gazette-Journal.
Contact: Les Smith
RENO, NV - AUG 4, 2008 - In an apparent move to free-up analog channels for more lucrative clients, Charter Communications is moving the public channels up to the digital band, effectively putting them out of reach for the citizens of the Truckee Meadows.
"A huge number of people in Reno, Sparks and Washoe County will no longer have access to the information, programming and media that was provided for them by federal law," said Les Smith, executive director for Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT).
"Unless a wide majority of viewers go out of their way to buy the digital box and actively search out the public, education and government (PEG) channels, they will miss the opportunity to see what their local governments are doing," Smith continued.
"They wont be able to get valuable information about whats happening in their community or enjoy programming provided for them by program producers in the community."
"Those who will be most affected right away are the government channels, Reno channel 13, Sparks channel 15, public access channel 16 and Washoe County channel 17."
According to Smith, channel 16, the public access channel, provides media access for community organizations like the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Humane Society and others, who will essentially be cut off by the move.
This move to put PEG channels onto the digital tier is not the first time that the cable provider has banished PEG channels to what Smith refers to as "Cable Siberia."
The educational channel was placed at channel 200. The channel was originally designated to be brokered by SNCAT and populated with programming from the UNR, TMCC and the Washoe County School District.
"TMCC produced programming and put classes on the channel to start with," said Smith,
"But, after Charter failed to follow-through with a promise to provide special digital boxes for students, the audience for channel 200 basically dropped to zero. So, TMCC gave up and they havent put any new programming on the channel for the last couple of years."
Smith predicts that the other PEG channels may share the same fate, if Charter is allowed to force this move.
According to Charter Communications, PEG programming currently reaches 75,000 households in the Truckee Meadows. These numbers will be drastically cut for the government and public channels if they move to the digital tier.
Currently, the vast majority of viewership on the analog PEG channels is incidental, but significant, usually the result of people surfing the basic cable tier. Both the cities and county indicate that a high percentage of the people polled in the Truckee Meadows indicated that they had viewed a public meeting or program on one of the PEG channels.
The Dean's List
The Dean of Reno Bloggers could very well be Andrew Barbano, self-described "fighter of public demons," who started putting his "Barbwire" columns online in 1996 and now runs 10 sites.
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The campaign against forcibly-paid newspaper obituaries
And they wonder why the newspaper business is dying?
Phillips, Kevin; Numbers Racket: Why the economy is worse than we know
Harper's Magazine; May 2008; page 43
Phillips has authored numerous books on history and politics over the past 40 years. His most recent, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, was published by Viking on April 15, 2008.
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Copyright © 1982-2008 Andrew BarbanoAndrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org, former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee and serves as political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. He hosts live news and talk (775-682-4144) Monday through Friday, 2-4:00 p.m., at Barbwire.TV and Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 (until Aug. 26) and 216. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988. Tempus fugit.
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