So let’s try to expedite matters.
When will Sparks finally get mad?
The city of Reno’s settlement offer in the Charter Communications debacle has morphed into a battle for control of local public cablewaves.
In August, the Reno City Council ordered the city attorney to research going to court for a temporary restraining order similar to the case successfully thus far pursued in Michigan. (Read the federal judge’s recent decision at ReSurge.TV.) U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the Reno News & Review he would support the legal action.
My consumer organization, ReSurge.TV, is prepared to go to court if state and/or local governments do not act in the best interests of the ratepayers.
You may read the settlement proposal, crafted by Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi, at ReSurge.TV. Because it was so latecoming (I uploaded it in the wee hours of Wednesday morning), the council on Wednesday afternoon postponed any action until Nov. 10. Ironically, Charter raised its rates Thursday.
Charter threatens to take community channels 13, 15, 16 and 17 dark on Thanksgiving Day, banishing them to cyber-Siberia.
Blatantly stating its goal as the enhancement of corporate profits, Charter wants to move public, educational and government (PEG) access TV stations to the digital tier (channels 200 and above). When Charter relegated the Truckee Meadows Community College educational channel to the low-audience, high-cost, low-surfing digital tier, it killed the channel’s usefulness and TMCC stopped using it.
Moving community TV to the digital tier would deprive as many as 35,000 basic and expanded basic ratepayers in Washoe, Carson and Douglas counties of services for which they have paid for and for which they will continue to pay.
The Reno proposal not only gives control of a single remaining analog (double-digit) channel to Reno, but gives Reno a huge pot of new ratepayer money, including an additional 5-percent franchise fee plus $650,000 in payoffs — er, ah — make that “access capital grants.”
The draft also says that a duck is not a duck: “The parties agree that the compensation and other payments to be made pursuant to this Section (the section is not specified) of this Settlement Agreement are not a tax and are not in the nature of a tax and are in addition to any and all taxes of general applicability which Charter shall be required to pay to the city.”
It is illegal under federal law to charge a franchise fee of more than 5 percent, so they’ve labeled it as something else. George Carlin, call your office.
The complications seem mind-boggling. Does the deal violate state or federal law? Would it require Charter to bail out of its 2007 decision to operate under state deregulation? Would the state continue to collect the current 5 percent franchise fee, or would it go directly to Reno?
It has long been illegal to impose costs on a public utility that cannot be passed through to customers, so in the end the ratepayers will get it in the end.
Will Sparks and Washoe County have the balls to object about Reno jacking up their ratepayers for a huge monetary windfall? (Rates are uniform throughout Washoe County.) Charter spokesmen said they will apply any settlement with Reno to both Sparks and Washoe County. Actually, their system’s technical requirements leave little choice.
Will Sparks and Washoe object to Reno taking effective control of the sole remaining channel on the popular analog tier? Provision of the single channel is required under federal law. Reno is trying to seize control of it through this deal.
Charter has offered to do what they have to do anyway (the single channel) or produce a cockamamie coupon mailing to the affected customers offering some freebies. Bottom line: We will give you a choice between what we are legally required to do (the single channel) and what we are illegally trying to do (move the community channels where few will see them).
Reno’s proposal is the same as asking tobacco companies to produce a campaign to fight teen smoking: They will do anything that they know will absolutely not work.
The public access system producers in particular and the ratepayers in general have been shut out of this process, as Reno and Charter have negotiated behind closed doors.
Feel free to call or webchat my daily TV show with your comments. I told the Reno council on Wednesday that it’s bad enough that I’m gearing up to sue a near-bankrupt billion-dollar outfit, I don’t want to have to sue the city, too.
Basic cable freebie alert
Michael Moore’s 2008 feature film “Slacker Uprising” continues its first run on Sierra Nevada Community Access TV here in the Truckee Meadows. Partially filmed at UNR’s Lawlor Events Center, the movie will air on Charter channels 16 and 216 Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and Friday at 9 a.m. (BTW: My show will be in reruns Friday. We will rebroadcast the popular July 15 program with KRNV TV-4 anchor Tad Dunbar.)
Short Attention Span Theater
Earl Ammerman IV and his dad, Big Earl, were talk radio fans of mine about 18 years ago. Little Earl is now an anthropology major at the University of Nevada, Reno and head of the Nader for President campaign in these parts.
“I have noticed one odd thing while campaigning,” Little Earl writes. “Many Democrats are under the assumption that Ralph Nader chose (former U.S. Attorney General) Alberto Gonzalez as his running mate. At first, I believed that this was just a coincidence. However, it has been happening too much as of late to be considered a coincidence. I don’t know how one could actually believe that Nader would pick Alberto Gonzalez as his running mate. I wonder if the Democratic party is doing this to smear Ralph’s image.”
Could some people actually believe that the distinguished Mr. Nader would put Tortureman on the ticket? Alas and alack, yes, given the level of attention devoted to follytix by the great unwashed.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan, member of Sparks-based Communications Workers of America Local 9413/AFL-CIO, political action chair and webmaster of NAACP Reno-Sparks Branch 1112, producer of the César Chávez celebration and editor of NevadaLabor.com. As always, his comments are strictly his own. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.