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Stalking the perfect storm
by Andrew Barbano
Dec 20, 2008 | 577 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s early March 2009. Snow is piling up outside and you feel both smug that you don’t have to venture out and sorry for poor louts who must. You also worry about friends and relatives.

You plan a quiet evening watching TV and are shocked to find nothing on. Absolutely nothing. Your TV has more snowflakes on the screen than Old Man Winter is providing outside.

Charter cable service has been sporadic since the company’s bankruptcy filing and is now totally out.

You lose Channel 4 news right in the middle of an emergency warning that this storm might be the Sierra equivalent of Hurricane Katrina.

Your old TV with the rabbit ears won’t work because it can only receive the few remaining analog signals retained by low-power UHF Spanish-language and out-of-state religious stations. The storm has taken down power lines. Spanish TV news and local radio go down with them.

You call your next-door neighbor who subscribes to satellite service. His dish is iced solid and he’s got nothing.

You sit in the dark, a little scared. The house is getting colder. You wonder how long your cell phone will keep working. No point in putting it on the charger. You begin to second-guess your cost-saving decision to lose your landline.

You stumblingly search for a flashlight to look for fresh batteries for your one portable radio and hope that some stations have emergency generators. And you pray that the old radio still works.

You wish you had a fireplace and begin to wonder if this is what life was like in the Nevada of the wild, wild west.

It can’t happen here?

A Charter Communica-tions meltdown is inevitable, with Moody’s Investors Service stating “that a default is imminent and bankruptcy is likely for Charter in 2009.”

On Dec. 14, wrote, “The cable company is often among the last carriers to implement substantive upgrades because of heavy debt load — though the CEO seems to do OK.”

In my first month chairing the City of Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee in 2002, we obtained credible information of Charter’s internal problems and feared serious service outages. Charter has never made a profit since going public in 1999, when Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen scored many more billions by cloaking his shaky cable Frankenstein in a tux and putting on the Ritz for Wall Street.

I described the situation to Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, who introduced 2003 legislation to allow franchising authorities such as Sparks and Reno to operate cable systems until a new provider could be found. Charter and their fellow pirates from Gomorrah South assassinated the pro-consumer bill.

Even without a perfect storm, over-the-air TV stands to lose about one in 10 viewers at the end of February because so many people either cannot afford to pay for digital converters or don’t know how to hook them up. It takes a lot of knowhow according to a Ma Bell retiree from my union, Sparks-based Communications Workers of America Local 9413.

This good man has been helping people install over-the-air converters and did 20 minutes on my TV show last Friday describing the intricacies.

At a meeting of local TV executives last spring, I asked why commercial stations didn’t just hire people to go out and hook up converters. TV stations make money by having maximum numbers of eyeballs watching their commercials, so I reasoned that they would want to keep their viewers.

Yes, but their lawyers told them there would be too many liability problems if they assisted their customers. Advocates for senior citizens and the disabled were especially brutal toward the telecasters.

Major new telecommunications reform is necessary, but will be way down the priority list of the many fixes needed after the Bush-Cheney criminal enterprise leaves power.

Can’t happen here, part deux

This comes from an emergency activation system (EAS) expert: “I have not seen Charter in Carson City carry either a monthly test or an activation on any channel. When I asked several years ago why I didn’t see the evacuation order issued for the Moundhouse Fire on the cable channel I was watching, Charter responded that their equipment ‘failed at the head end.’

“Remember that current federal regulations allow cable operators to bypass or ignore local EAS activations. They are only mandated to carry federal warnings unless their state or local government contracts require them to carry local alerts. When the (2007) legislature took away local authority over cable operators, our lawmakers apparently failed to add any mandates that cable operators carry local EAS messages. I’ve seen and heard more EAS activations on cable in Las Vegas than I have in Carson and Reno so I know cable operators who are committed to the community can carry EAS information. And I’ve been in ‘Hurricane Alley’ during storm season and not only have I seen the information cable operators there carry, I’ve also seen how their community access stations, or PEG channels, turn into full-time emergency warning and information centers. And I don’t know how a local government channel that provides this kind of emergency information can be moved out of a basic tier without a lot of fuss from the community.” (Charter, in a dirty deal with the city of Reno, did just that on Dec. 16.)

Pirate ship pillages little people

About one in five Charter ratepayers have lost community TV service in Sparks, Reno, Carson, Washoe and Douglas. Public, educational and most governmental (PEG) TV have been moved to the lightly surfed, lower-audience, higher-priced digital tier.

Please write or call Sen. Harry Reid to ask the FCC to issue an order reversing the damage. Write him at 400 S. Virginia, Suite 902, Reno, NV 89501. The office phone number is 686-5750.

I also recommend e-mailing his key staffers, Mary Conelly in Reno ( and Brittany Blanchard in DC (

Please act quickly and also consider joining our consumer organization, ReSurge.TV, as we gear up for the next round of this fight.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 40-year Nevadan and editor of He hosts live news and talk (682-4144) Monday through Friday, 2 to 4 p.m. on Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter digital channels 16 and 216, streaming at Barbwire.TV. E-mail barbano@ Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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