beat up at city hall
CONSUMER TRIANGLE: Ratepayers must fight the company, the council and the city staff
Expanded from the Sunday, 3-28-2004, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
4-1-2004 Comstock Chronicle
I got beat up at Reno City Hall last week, but I'm used to it.
On Wednesday, March 24, Reno councilmembers decided that they didn't want to take steps to compel Charter Communications to provide qualified experts when needed to answer questions from the Citizens Cable Compliance Committee (CCCC), which I chair.
My citizens committee has encountered problems both with Charter non-attendance and refusal to provide even publicly available documents. Charter Vice-President Marsha Berkbigler informed me after the council vote that the company would provide no qualified executive at my committee's March 25 meeting or the live call-in town hall scheduled for April 1.
My committee found Charter in non-compliance for inadequate notice to ratepayers on where to lodge complaints and asked the council to order the deficiency fixed. Corporate-friendly city staffers said we were wrong.
I presented the Federal Communications Commission regulation regarding what information must be provided to consumers in an annual notice. Ms. Berkbigler admitted that the company's bill insert was deficient. Nonetheless, freshman Councilmember Dwight Dortch wanted the council to support the city staff recommendation to vote down the committee's findings.
His blind faith in the bureaucracy reminded me of the old Groucho Marx line: "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"  His colleagues wisely postponed action on the issue for further study.
At our CCCC meeting of March 25, Councilman David Aiazzi stated that he would request city attorneys to justify with proper legal points and authorities their arguments opposing both committee recommendations. One reason staffers cited for not wanting to compel Charter to attend public hearings was that my committee that means me has hurt Charter's feelings.
That's OK. I get my feelings hurt every time I pay my ever-growing cable bill. Last week, even the U.S. Senate got into the act, questioning the deregulated industry's price gouging.
Last Thursday, my committee unanimously voted to recommend that the council forward the franchise draft to the city's Financial Advisory Board for a full review of its monetary aspects. 
City staff and Charter have not concurred with cable consultant Robert Sepe's recommendation that Charter be required to provide a cashable letter of credit rather than an insurance policy (surety bond) to guarantee that the troubled company can financially fulfill its obligations under the proposed 15-year franchise renewal. (Dr. Sepe recommended a maximum eight-year term in his $54,000 community needs study presented to the city last year. I want to know what the ratepayers get for giving them a fat 15-year reward for years of lousy service and breach of contract.)
City staff informed the committee that letters of credit are not required in other jurisdictions. CCCC Vice-Chair Floyd Dean stated that, given Charter's deteriorating financial condition, Reno should be the first.
What we do with the new Charter franchise will set the standard for other area governments. Please participate in the live call-in town hall this Thursday April Fools Day at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at Reno City Hall. It will be cablecast live on SNCAT/Charter Cable Channel 13 in Reno-Sparks with
reruns to follow. The call-in number will be (775) 334-2402.
THE END OF THE STORY: You may recall the column I printed a few weeks ago about Bonnie Puccinelli. The postal service misdelivered her check to the builder of her new home. It went to Charter's office, a few blocks away. Charter looked her up in the computer, credited her account for $2,300, then illegally cashed the check made out to the developer. Ms. Puccinelli had to ante up another $2,300 for add-ons to her new home before Charter eventually 'fessed up the money. When she got salty with them, they finally agreed to send one check, not seven installments as they originally wanted, and waived the $120 "franchise fee" they insisted she had to pay no matter what.
This outrageous episode underscores Charter's inconsistent complaint and customer service policies. Orders are apparently to push people around and only cave in when someone is not intimidated, even when company conduct borders on criminality.
Thanks to everyone who sent advice for Ms. Puccinelli from all over the country. I heard from from local citizens, experts and cable activists after the story made the national cable advocates' webnews service.
Ms. Puccinelli is now happily settled in her new Sparks home and has subscribed to a satellite TV service.
CESAR CHAVEZ III. Reno's third Cesar Chavez birthday celebration will be held this Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. at Circus Circus. March 31 is the 77th anniversary of the legendary labor leader's birth. As they did last year for Chavez II, the sponsoring television stations, WB affiliate KREN TV-27 (Charter Cable 6) and Azteca affiliate KUVR TV-68 (Charter Cable 24) have been airing biographical vignettes and will telecast a special program on Chavez this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., repeating again at 11:30 p.m. At NevadaLabor.com this week, I'll upload a special section about Chavez's historic 1986 visit to Reno-Sparks. People who met him at that time, as well as a growing number of Nevadans who actually worked with him, will deliver their personal remembrances at the event. If you knew him, I want to talk to you.
Be well. Raise hell.
 Chico Marx dressed as Groucho Marx in Duck Soup, 1933.
 UPDATE 3-30-2004 Today at 12:30 p.m. on NBC KRNV TV-4's Nevada Newsmakers, in response to a question from host Sam Shad, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell essentially endorsed sending the franchise draft to the city's financial advisory board for review. The show will repeat tonight at 9:30 p.m. on Charter Channel 12 in Reno-Sparks-Carson City and Douglas County. The relevant comments are in the first segment. When Mr. Shad asked the mayor if the franchise draft would be sent to the FAB as our panel has recommended, Mr. Cashell responded "it probably will, yes."
UPDATE 4-7-2004 Yes apparently meant no. Please read Cashell does Eddy Arnold.
Mayor Bob Cashell does Eddy Arnold
Daily Sparks Tribune 4-11-2004, Comstock Chronicle 4-15-2004
Reno City Council sentences ratepayers
to 15 more years of Charter rape and pillage
despite 3 town hall meetings, 3 Gazette-Journal Internet votes,
KOLO TV-8's web sampling, letters to the editor, massive e-mails,
paper letters and phone calls to councilmembers.
Reno Gazette-Journal 4-8-2004
City should reject cable deal
Reno City Council can cut cable TV rates
Reno Gazette-Journal Op-Ed 4-7-2004
Citizens panel urges denial of 15-year cable franchise
Reno Gazette-Journal 4-2-2004
Reno Gazette-Journal ill-informed editorial
"City getting best of Charter deal"
Reno Gazette-Journal 4-2-2004
Ratepayers beware: The city and Charter like this deal
Beware of pigs wearing lipstick
Reno Gazette-Journal 3-30-2004
No cable TV complaints allowed until 2019
City gives the store away
Daily Sparks Tribune 3-21-2004
Barbano's Conspicuously Unofficial Cable Consumer Page
Everything about how we got to where we are today
Cable Industry Economics
Everything your friendly local cable provider doesn't want you to know
City of Reno Staff Report on Draft Cable Franchise
Bring your salt shaker
You may also get copies of the above documents by calling the community relations office
at Reno City Hall at (775) 321-8318; fax 334-3124; or e-mail RenoDirect.
At the mercy of cable monopolies
Clearly, deregulation has failed
San Diego Union-Tribune 3-15-2004
The Consumers Union Video & Cable information index
Charter Cable's Checking Account Isn't Choosy
What's a mere $2,300 between friends?
Daily Sparks Tribune 2-22-2004
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Watch your language if you call, John Ashcroft might be listening
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