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Deregulation means never having to say you're sorry
2009 Nevada Press Association first-place award winner
Expanded from the 8-3-2008 Daily Sparks Tribune
Updated 8-5-2008, 8-6-2008, 8-8-2008, 8-10-2008, 8-20-2008
, 8-24-2008, 9-20-2009

The first bitter fruit of last year's legislative steamrolling of cable TV "deregulation" is now coming to your living room.

Starting on August 26, the peoples' television stations are being bumped to the premium digital tiers, which means a huge chunk of viewers will be shut out of a major portion of basic cable programming.

UPDATE AFTER THE 8-7 PUBLIC FORUM: Looks like suing the bastards is the only recourse. Charter has stonewalled city officials. Stay tuned to Barbwire.TV

Donate to the cable ratepayer legal defense fund at our PayPal-enabled ReSurge.TV Consumer War Room

Updated math behind the move
Updated 11-16-2008

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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Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune 8-24-2008

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Barbwire / Daily Sparks Tribune 8-17-2008

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Sue the bastards
Barbwire/Daily Sparks Tribune 8-10-2008

Last year's columns about skulduggery at the Nevada Legislature which led to this mess

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The Charter bandidos already moved C-SPAN2 to the digital tier last year. C-SPAN3 has never been available in this area.

C-SPAN is shorthand for "Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network." Like public, educational and governmental (PEG) access television, CSPAN was originally created to curry favor with government officials by giving them free face time. Apparently, the cable industry is now so big, fat and rich that it can give its benefactors the digital finger.

Late this month, if you want to see your government in action, you're going to have to pay.

But aren't you already paying a franchise fee in your cable bill which funds such telecasts? Yes, but last year, in an orgasm of bipartisan rape and pillage, your legislature moved cable regulation up to the state level, which means they took off all controls.

Such corporate maneuvers are known as pre-emption laws. Years ago, uberlobbyist Harvey Whittemore got a tobacco pre-emption law passed, which meant that no city or county could be tighter on cigarettes than the state, which meant no regulation at all. Only placing a petition on the ballot banned smoking in all public places but casinos, a genuflection to the gambling industry's jealously guarded prerogative to exploit addictive personalities.

I wrote extensively on last year's TV debacle and communicated with lawmakers. Otherwise, Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, and the American Association of Retired Persons were pretty much alone in voicing opposition. (UPDATE: The state consumer advocate and the City of Reno also lobbied on behalf of consumers but were outgunned.)

I will link all of last year's columns, plus some additional material, to the web edition of this column at Barbwire.US.

Charter originally told interested parties that it was going to broadcast all basic cable programming at both the analog dial positions (channels 2 through 21) and the digital tier, which is now available only to premium subscribers. Complete transition to the digital system was slated to coincide with the much-ballyhooed switch to all-digital telecast next February.

Late last week, Charter threw a spitball, telling very few that they will now move only the public, educational and governmental access stations to the digital tier this month. That goes for Reno, Sparks, Washoe, Carson and Douglas counties.

Charter is apparently going to try to blame the Federal Communications Commission, which will be a lie. The FCC has nothing to do with this. Moving commercial channels to the double-digit tier will increase viewership and thus advertising rates.

As of August 26, the Sparks Centennial Channel will move to 215 and go dark on channel 15. Ditto with Reno on 13, Washoe County on 17 and public access on 16. To continue to receive them, you will have to subscribe to the digital tier and pay five bucks a month for a converter box on every set — the same one they advertise will save you from throwing away your conventional TV come February.

In an e-mail he distributed late Friday, Sierra Nevada Community Access Television Executive Director Les Smith gave this explanation: "During the 2007 legislature, a new state law was passed that took the power and responsibility for negotiating cable franchise agreements away from cities and counties and gave it to the secretary of state.

"While the law guarantees that cable providers like Charter continue to allow space for public, educational and governmental channels, apparently there was no requirement to keep them in the basic cable tier.

"What can you do? Contact your legislators and congressional representatives and tell them what's happening and that you want it stopped!

"Contact George Jostlin, government liaison for Charter at 775-850-1245 and let him know how you feel about the situation. Speak out! Go to public comment at the cities and county let your feelings be known. Write letters to the editor of the RGJ, Reno News & Review and Sparks Tribune," Smith stated.

Putting on some pressure via the Carson City Nevada Appeal and Gardnerville Record-Courier won't hurt.

An informational meeting and strategy session will be held at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, August 7, at SNCAT. The public is invited. SNCAT is located at 4024 Kietzke Lane at Peckham in the Crossroads Shopping Center across from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Smith may be contacted at (775) 828-1211.

The organizations affected by this go deep in the community: the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, the Airport Authority of Washoe County, the Humane Society, Artown, the Nevada Opera Guild and many, many others.

For once, it looks like I'm gonna be on the same side as city hall.

It's time to kick ass.

TUESDAY: My very special TV guest will be Hug High Principal Andrew Kelly, who has led his school to a major victory. The Hug Hawks have soared as the first high school in state history to have effectively moved itself off the scarlet letter list of schools not making "adequate yearly progress" under Dubya's "no child left" law.

On April 2, 2006, I praised Kelly for having the guts to submit a guest editorial to the Reno Gazette-Journal delineating inequality in the local school system. He was not aware until I gave him a copy that the Reno paper had produced a sparkling series on just that issue in 1992 — which the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees chose to totally ignore. The problems of separate but unequal education persist right here in River City and Mr. Kelly is the right person to lead the fight to improve things.

You may participate by phone call at (775) 682-4144 or chatcrawl at Barbwire.TV.

Tune in, turn on and tell a friend.

Be well. Raise hell.

Smoking Guns...

Donate to the cable ratepayer legal defense fund at our PayPal-enabled ReSurge.TV Consumer War Room

Reno city council votes unanimously to sue Charter to keep community TV accessible
Resurge.TV will also file

Sierra Nevada Community Access Television

Informational meeting Thursday 8/7/08 at 6:30 p.m. at SNCAT please send at least ten other people this notice and editorial.


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 Charter’s subscribers or the rest of the people who don’t 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, don’t 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 can’t 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 it’s 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 doesn’t 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 isn’t 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 wouldn’t 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?


Contact: Les Smith
(775) 828-1211

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 won’t be able to get valuable information about what’s 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 a 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 even gave up and they haven’t 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.


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Copyright © 1982-2008, 2009 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, editor of and; a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413/AFL-CIO, and the Reno-Sparks NAACP. He is the former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. He hosts live news and talk Monday through Friday, 2-4:00 p.m. at Barbwire.TV and Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 (at least until Aug. 26) and 216. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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