Fool me twice, shame on me

Expanded from the Sunday, 8-1-2004, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
and the 8-6-2004 Comstock Chronicle

Last Friday, Charter Communications pulled a Washington PR shuck on northern Nevada.

The regional cable monopoly announced that 40 Nevadans will lose their call center jobs as the clumsy giant transfers the work to Vancouver, Washington, and who knows where else. (Let me know the first time somebody with an east Indian accent answers your call and tries to convince you that his name actually is Shawn.)

The company announced the wonderful news — "local calls to be shifted to ‘state of the art’ contact center in Vancouver" — at the deadest newstime of the week. Washington DC government officials know that the best way to bury bad news is to announce it late Friday when TV evening reports are in final edit and regular beat reporters have already left their newspapers for the weekend.

Guaranteeing the jobs of Charter’s 300 local workers was a principal reason used by Reno City Councilman David Aiazzi to justify the city’s rolling over and playing dead last April. Over strong objections by the city’s own cable advisory board, which I chair, the council voted 4-2 to give Charter everything it wanted, including a new franchise term of 15 years.

Us dumb citizens recommended an eight-year deal and only after careful review of all the dollar implications by the city’s financial advisory board. Mr. Aiazzi came before our committee in May and demanded an apology from those who had mischaracterized the city’s good intentions. (That means me.)

He asserted that Reno fastracked its rubberstamping without full review because Charter had overlooked a renewal clause in its 1988 franchise agreement. The city feared that Charter would exercise its 10-year option and government coffers would not get any of the ratepayer cash the city wanted as a signing bonus.

Mr. Aiazzi’s assertion could not be confirmed. I contacted sources involved in the franchise negotiations. They said that Charter executives were indeed aware of the option, but continued to structure a new franchise because the old agreement contained restrictions the company wanted removed.

They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams when the city gave away the store on April 7.

Less than four months later, Charter announced serious downsizing. Never giving an inch, Mr. Aiazzi tried to spin it favorably.

"I hate to lose jobs, but there are 230 jobs still (here)," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The best thing to come out of Charter’s latest depredation may lie in the opportunity provided Washoe County, Carson City and Sparks. While the former are in negotiation after franchise expiration, Rail City government has so far shown little interest in coordinating efforts with other municipalities.

Perhaps Sparks is finally listening. In its Saturday web edition, the Reno paper reported "Sparks city officials said their current 15-year contract with Charter expires Oct. 31, 2006.

"Mayor Tony Armstrong said the closure of the call center in Reno would be a factor in renewing a contract with the cable company.

"’The question is how is it going to affect service to customers,’ Armstrong said Friday. ‘If it’s not positive, then the (Sparks) City Council could have some serious concerns.’"

I've said it many times and I'll say it again: form a cable team NOW, including citizens, or face instant replay of the above.

If that’s not enough incentive, try this report from Schwarzeneggerland. The headline out of Long Beach, Calif., read "Charter begins full-digital..."

"Charter Communications removed the ‘trial’ label from its all-digital initiative in Long Beach, Calif….

"Charter, which began testing the all-digital network in January, said it moved into commercial deployment on July 4 in Long Beach and nearby Signal Hill. Charter, which has achieved greater than 65 percent digital penetration in Long Beach, is simulcasting 96 channels to fuel the migration, and plans to add more as it obtains approvals from programmers.

"’As the first city in America to boast an all-digital network, Long Beach will be the hub of technological and convergence this summer,’ said Charter President & CEO Carl Vogel, in a release.

"The (company) will commemorate the commercial launch with coverage of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Long Beach, set to get underway July 7 at the 10,000-seat Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre." (From Communications Engineering & Design magazine)

An expert’s comment: "Here it goes. This means anyone who gets cable has to have a box. Digital cable looks the same as cable modem, so everything is an ‘information service,’ not a cable service, and the local government loses its right to collect franchise fees or to regulate it. Worth checking to see how Long Beach is dealing with the box issue."

Charter serves 188,000 homes in Long Beach and 140,000 in northern Nevada. Are we next?

Now we know why Charter and its telcom compadres (SBC Communications and Gomorrah South’s Cox Cable and Sprint telephone) pushed Senate Bill 400 through the 2003 Nevada Legislative session. The "broadband parity" bill was so confusing, lawmakers were not only incapable of understanding it, but the companies were also unable to demonstrate any need for it.

It still passed. Consumer advocates viewed it as a way to freeze out small competitors and allow the biggies to divide between them the biggest growth area of the telecommunications industry.

The City of Reno sold out for 30 pieces of cybersilver. Other local governments must learn from Reno’s dereliction. They must bargain hard and go to federal and state lawmakers for new consumer protections. Much more on that and all these issues at

Be well. Raise hell.



Conservative columnist criticizes City of Reno & Charter hypocrisy
Reno News & Review 8-12-2004

Charter closes Reno call center
Councilman Aiazzi still defends his employment ploy
Reno Gazette-Journal 7-31-2004

Latest Cable TV con jobs
Daily Sparks Tribune 7-25-2004, Comstock Chronicle 7-30-2004

Aiazzi comes under fire from cable committee chair

The sordid City of Reno/Charter saga from day one | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors
| BallotBoxing.US
Barbwire Oilogopoly Archive


Copyright © 1982-2004 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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