Latest Cable TV con jobs
Expanded from the Sunday, 7-25-2004, Daily
Sparks, Nev., Tribune
and the 7-30-2004 Comstock Chronicle
It will come as news to no one that there is no good news out of cable TV land.
The latest Charter Communications ripoff came several weeks ago with the announcement of a new charge for digital set-top boxes. The letter announcing it to us poor suckers starts off as sweet as the sugar in a flytrap.
Then the dinger: "Although it may be hard to believe with the recent publicity," (some from this column) "it has been over three years since we have adjusted rates on our digital equipment although costs have continued to increase."
The latter assertion may be charitably termed a sin of omission. Charter actually jacked up general rates by about 13 percent in 2003. The latest is a specific increase on one area of service.
Alas and alack, they can get away with it. At our May meeting, the City of Renos citizens cable committee, which I chair, heard a detailed presentation on how cable rates are made in the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era of deregulation. (Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were the hands-on perpetrators of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which gave the likes of Charter a deregulated monopoly.)
A cable companys ability to raise rates is almost feudal. The king says you pay what the crown says you have to pay. Period.
Charter could have attributed the latest increase to postage or the CEOs new Ferrari. It would not have mattered.
The clever letter suckered gullible news media. As I noted several weeks ago, KRNV TV-4 reported this as Charters first rate increase in three years. Misleading PR mission accomplished.
Reno City Hall has done everything in its estimable powers to make sure that its own citizens get stabbed in the wallet. My committee spent hundreds of hours trying to get a better deal for ratepayers in the recently signed 15-year franchise renewal. We were largely stonewalled.
How bad was it/is it? This Thursday, we hope to get a first look at documents we have been requesting from Charter and city for as long as two years. Im not holding my breath.
At our May meeting, our city liaison, Councilmember David Aiazzi, made a presentation and demanded an apology from the committee - mostly from me..
He presented a section of the old franchise ordinance which he asserted that Charter somehow overlooked during the recent megabucks negotiations. (A process from which my committee was barred, even after we twice brought evidence of gross incompetence to the councils attention.)
Mr. Aiazzi stated that the old deal allowed Charter an option to renew for 10 years, as a result of which the city would "get nothing." City administration would not have gotten all those hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars to help with remodeling the new city hall in Cal-Nevas black tower.
When he recommended that the city sign off on the very flawed 15-year renewal, Mr. Aiazzi told the council to consider Charters 300 employees. (Whenever a politician says his actions are for the children or for the workers, watch your wallet and hide the good silverware.)
Mr. Aiazzis concern for the workers is admirable. Its an election year and hes up for a third term. Im willing to take him at his word that he cares for employees. As I recall, local labor and civil rights leaders recently made a presentation that the council require everyone contracting with the city to pay their workers a living wage. Dont know that it got anywhere, but heres a chance to prove you want to do something for the beleaguered Charter employees. Pass a living wage law.
Sources actively involved in the franchise negotiation differ with Mr. Aiazzi. They tell me that the Charter bandidos were well aware of the renewal option but decided to renegotiate because the company wanted other provisions modified. Insiders say that Charter proceeded to negotiate a new franchise believing that it was possible to achieve less burdensome and more favorable terms than available pursuant to the extension of the old agreement. Looks like they gambled and won at our expense. After all, every penny the city gets from Charter comes from thee and me.
The most interesting part of the old franchise document which Mr. Aiazzi passed out last April came in a notation showing that Charters 1988 franchise was amended in 1997 to allow for the 10-year option. At the time, Mr. Aiazzi was in his first year on the council.
Reno City Council minutes of July 8, 1997, show that the council voted 6-1 in favor of the new ordinance with only Candace Pearce in opposition. It gave cable operators a 10-year option. Mr. Aiazzi voted with the majority. The minutes reflect no discussion of the cable franchise extension.
(Info provided by city clerk's office.
Any additional data has been requested.)
I have a phone message in to him to ask why the council supported such a mid-course extension. And what did the ratepayers get for it? And did he support it?
Sparks, Washoe County and Carson City need to review these issues as their renewal negotiations proceed.
Items on our Thursday agenda (6:30 p.m., old Reno city hall) include a "discussion as to whether or not Charter's rate announcement notice of June 16, 2004, signed by Manny Martinez, Group Vice-President, violated (Reno Municipal Code Section) 5.90.1027 by not inserting anywhere on the letter a statement that because of federal regulations the City may not regulate cable television rates."
We will also seek a status report as to when the citys Financial Advisory Board will agendize the committees request that the FAB compile information on the cost of administering the cable franchise.
We wanted the FAB to review the franchise draft because it contained so many unresolved issues. The council voted 4-2 to rubber stamp the 15-year deal, sold by Mr. Aiazzi as generating the most money - your money - to city coffers.
Mayor Bob Cashell and councilmembers Aiazzi, Dwight Dortch and Sharon Zadra supported the deal. Councilmembers Jessica Sferrazza and Toni Harsh voted against. Councilmember Pierre Hascheff was absent.
This Thursdays meeting will be cablecast on SNCAT-13.
Be well. Raise hell.
Conservative columnist criticizes City of Reno & Charter hypocrisy
Reno News & Review 8-12-2004
Fool me twice, shame on me
Daily Sparks Tribune 8-1-2004, Comstock Chronicle 8-6-2004
Charter closes Reno call center
Councilman Aiazzi still defends his employment ploy
Reno Gazette-Journal 7-31-2004
Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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