Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Monday, February 08, 2010
Last Thursday, Comcast and NBCU marched up to Capitol Hill to testify before the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications. At times it was a raucous exchange with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker making promises about what they will deliver once the two giant corporations are joined in holy merger matrimony.
The spectacle reminded me of the Carol King song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Let’s pause on that song for a moment. It was meant to be a cautionary tale to us teenage girls of the 1970’s. Of course he’s staring in your eyes as if you are the most important woman on the face of the planet and he is saying all kinds of wonderful things to you, promising his undying love in an effort to soften your resolve not to “give in.” And you want so badly to believe him, but what’s going to happen when the night meets the morning sun?
Speaking strictly from the cable side, because that’s the side I pay attention to, there will be heartbreak.
In the last five years I’ve been in business and looking at cable at the community level, I can’t begin to tell you how many contracts the cable industry just ignores. Now most of us believe a legal contract is binding. We have contracts in our lives for a variety of things and most of us adhere to the terms of those contracts. Not cable. I have repeatedly seen blatant breaches of contract in several cities and towns and yet, even when called on those breaches, the cable operators don’t flinch, don’t promise to come into compliance and don’t even give a half-hearted apologetic “I’m sorry, we weren’t aware we were in breach.”
Why? Because they know that hardly anybody is going to enforce the contract.
They know that in the case of smaller towns there is a reluctance to hire an attorney to go after them. Makes sense. Lawyers don’t come cheap and even if they can recuperate their legal fees if they win, what if they lose? How do you justify to your constituents that you spent several hundred thousand dollars on a case that went nowhere? This holds true even with large communities, because as I have seen, the cable operators are perfectly willing to litigate you into the grave.
Another thing they know is that regulatory agencies have a tendency to sit on their hands and frequently won’t enforce their own state laws. I have sat in a room with a regulatory agency and cited the very clear language of the law regarding the number of PEG channels required in every franchise agreement and instead of the regulators turning to the cable operator and saying “Yep, that’s what it says alright,” they turn to me and ask me to negotiate downward.
Over three years ago, the Indiana legislature passed a state law that included the provision for local communities to petition the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission (IURC) for more PEG channels and for funding. Since that time no petitions have been filed. Why? Because the IURC has yet to create the petition process.
But we have as part of the dance, in the Comcast/NBCU merger courtship, a heartfelt promise to continue their commitment to PEG. Promises that, even if they were included in a legal contract, will be ignored when the night meets the morning sun because that’s what they do.
Now, more than ever, we need the Community Access Preservation Act (H.R. 3745, the CAP Act). And now more than ever we need a strong PEG presence at the FCC. For that reason, I and several of my colleagues have formed a new organization, American Community Television or ACT. We have formed it as a 501 (c) (4) so that we will face no limits on our lobbying activities. And that is our only interest, lobbying and helping others lobby. As our mission statement says:
American Community Television is a non-profit, 501 (c) 4 organization dedicated to the preservation of public, educational and government access television channels through the promotion and advocacy of positive federal legislation. ACT works, through communication with federal officials, for the passage and protection of federal statutes which establish and enhance the ability of local communities to use electronic media for the benefit of their citizens via public, educational and government access (PEG) television channels and to insure the accessibility for all citizens regardless of their socio-economic status.
We think it’s pretty simple, have a presence on Capitol Hill, at the FCC and before any legislative or regulatory body that will pass, or try to pass, legislation or regulations that affect PEG.
As we were discussing the formation of ACT, I was continually reminded of how the State Department used to bring people from various countries through the Alliance for Community Media office so I could tell them about PEG. To a person, these visitors were always amazed that we had this thing called Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television. One man, from Thailand, said to me “If we were able to get these channels the government would take them away.” I will never forget how he said that and I will never forget the look on his face as he said it.
Sadly, since that time, we’ve had twenty state legislatures either take away these channels or drastically weaken their ability to survive. Now we need the Congress to make these channels whole.
To learn more about our effort and to join us, go to American Community Television
I look forward to having your company in the fight.
Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director
American Community Television (ACT)
Thursday, May 28, 2009
So I’m watching BBC last night and here’s this story on a fella on some rural farm in Japan and he is bragging about his 50 Mbps broadband speed and how he has more time for fishing because he no longer has to commute and can service all his clients from home and it sent me right into a self-righteous diatribe about how crappy broadband service is here in the US. Then to pour lemon juice into the wound comes another story about some people in Kenya who are laying fiber to all these villages and this chick sitting in Central Park telling us the WiFi is free but nobody in New York gets 50 Mbps unless they are willing to pay around $150 a month for it.
I thought my head was going to explode.
And it was only last week that I listened to a presentation by Terry Huval of the Lafayette Utilities System on how Lafayette took things into their own hands and built their fiber ring because they knew if they waited for Cox or any other provider to do it right they might as well wait for pigs to fly.
So I can now get 1 Mbps upstream and 6 Mbps downstream for $45.95 a month from my local provider, who shall remain nameless but it starts with a C and ends with a T. And my fellow travelers in Lafayette get 10 Mbps up and down for $28.95 a month; 30 Mbps up and down for $44.95 a month; and 50 Mbps up and down for $57.95 a month. See Huval’s presentation here:
I hate those people in Lafayette.
They do have a history of being cranky. Seems in 1896 they decided to build their own electric and water system because they knew there was no way the utility providers would provide water and power any time too soon to what was an outback Cajun village. And they had to fight in the 1940’s to keep the big utility companies from taking over their system. Imagine the hubris of those people in Lafayette! It was déjà vu when they proposed to build their own fiber, and the public overwhelmingly approved the initiative, in 2005. The incumbent cable company that starts with a C and ends with an X, did everything to stop them, including taking a case all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. But Lafayette prevailed.
Laissez les Bon Temps Roulette!
Meanwhile the Federal Communications Commission just released a report called “Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy,” an excellent document that examines the issues of rural broadband, raises critical questions and provides potential models for how broadband can be deployed to rural and underserved America. However, in the section regarding government sponsorship or ownership was this:
“Although many have expressed concerns regarding the provision of government-sponsored or government-owned broadband services, raising questions about the appropriate role of government as a broadband service provider, the potential for market distortion, and the consequences of unfair competition…”
I would love to know who those “many” were. I would bet many of those many belong to an organization that starts with an N and ends with an A. The report goes on to say that 19 states have passed legislation dealing with municipal ownership of broadband that limit it or ban it all together. Meanwhile the Australian government has taken it on themselves to upgrade its infrastructure to deliver 100 Mbps to 90% of the homes and offices in the country. My guess is their telecom and cable lobby isn’t as efficient as it should be, maybe some of the boys on “K” Street could give them lessons.
The FCC report recommends that the state members of the Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Services “work to develop an inventory of resources, “best practices,” and success stories to inspire and motivate others to undertake the difficult but ultimately rewarding task of bringing broadband to rural communities across this nation.”
And I’d like to recommend the first place they start is by putting in a call to Terry Huval in Lafayette. He plays a mean fiddle by the way.
A good read on all the antics that went on (and still do) surrounding this project is the Lafayette Pro-Fiber Blog at http://www.lafayetteprofiber.com/
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
When my kids were little they were quite adept at reading my facial expressions. Especially that expression that communicated to them that I was not pleased. Today they call it the “look” as in “remember when mom would give you the look?” I believe that moms are uniquely endowed with the “look.” The “look” meant “whatever it is you are doing right now, stop it immediately because I do not approve.” It was unnecessary to accompany the “look” with any verbal communication, the “look” spoke for itself. And it was powerful enough to make them immediately stop in their tracks and slink timidly away from the offending activity.
Since I believe myself to be a master of the “look” I feel it is my duty to give the “look” to some cable and telecommunications companies.
The first “look” goes to Time Warner Cable for attempting to sock it to their customers by rolling out a metered broadband access plan. Particularly aimed at people who watch and download online videos, Time Warner couched their plan as more equitable. According to Newsfactor.com, the company said that “they wanted to give lower rates to customers who use the Net least and higher rates to those who use it most.” Isn’t that just like Time Warner? Always looking out for the little guy.
“We don’t want to spread our infrastructure and service costs to all users, we’re nice that way!”
Communities began complaining and firing off letters to TW, but it was after Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Eric Massa (both of New York) became involved that Time Warner backed off. There was some mumbling about cherishing their relationship with Schumer and some further mumbling about how they were just misunderstood, that’s all.
CEO Glenn Britt said in a press statement that it was “clear from the public response over the last two weeks that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about our plans to roll out additional tests on consumption based billing."
Mr. Britt, I have a sneaking suspicion that the general public understood your plans quite well and so did I, which is why you are getting the “look.”
My next “look” goes State Senator David Hoyle of North Carolina, a DemoRat and Chairman of the Board of the Citizens South Bank Corporation and a Director at a waste management company in Louisiana. Hoyle is the proud sponsor of a bill in North Carolina that would prevent local governments from building municipal broadband and prevent them from taking any broadband stimulus money.
The DailyTech.com reports that the legislation’s impetus may have come from the City of Wilson’s wildly successful muni-run cable service, Greenlight, Inc..
“…the city offers an expanded basic cable (81 channels), 10 Mbps (download and upload), and a digital phone plan with unlimited long distance to the U.S. and Canada, all for $99.95. A comparable plan from Time Warner Inc., with six fewer channels (no Cartoon Network, Disney, The Science Channel, ESPNU, ESPN News, or ESPN Classic) and lower upload speeds costs $137.95, for an introductory rate, which lasts a few months and then will likely be ratcheted up.”
According to DailyTech this was all too much for Time Warner and Embarq so they schmoozed the North Carolina legislature and believe it or not, found a simpatico in Hoyle (the real estate developer, banker and whatever it is you call people who run “waste management” in the South, I know what we call them in the Northeast).
Hoyle! Are you feeling me pal? Yeah, I’m looking at you.
The final “look” (for today) is for anybody and everybody involved in the digital television transition. Nobody seems to have any clear data on the transition’s effect on rural communities, particularly those with terrain. There has been very little to no education that the converter box is not the only piece of equipment people in those communities will need, an antenna, and not just rabbit ears but the big honking kind my daddy used to have up on the roof, is also needed. According to the Daily Yonder, the National Telecommunications and Information Agency has funded digital assistance centers, with most of them being in metropolitan areas with large media markets. The Denver Post reports that as many as two out of five television translators are not going to work.
But, my favorite is this from the Daily Yonder:
“…the FCC discovered in late December that almost 11% of local TV stations across the country are using the digital conversion as an opportunity to change their coverage areas. Stations are focusing their broadcast signals on higher income suburbs, dropping coverage of poorer and more distant rural communities.”
There will be more looks in the future I am sure, I never tire of pointing out rotten behavior. But as of this minute I am worn out from expecting better from people and corporations. My one burning question is: who raised these people?
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Did you know it’s great to be in love? Love releases all kinds of chemicals in your brain, among them adrenaline, dopamine, fenylethylamine, endorphin and oxytocin. Adrenaline causes your pupils to get bigger, your heart to go up, your breathing get faster and reduces hunger. Dopamine acts like cocaine and it’s addictive. Fenylethylamine acts like ecstasy and speed. Endorphin has the effect of heroine and opium. Oxytocin makes you feel connected, takes away fear and makes you feel confident. So when you’re in love you’re really just totally whacked out on drugs, that’s what makes it so good. And as we all know, love is way more intense in the Spring.
According to a recent article in Broadcasting and Cable (http://tiny.cc/TE8MC), Rick Boucher (D-VA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, was feeling the love at the Cable Show 2009. And he was putting out plenty of love in return. The article says he “had a pledge and several requests for the cable industry, which he delivered wrapped in praise for National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow and for cable’s commitment to broadband, interactive services and a digital-TV education campaign.”
Can you feel it?
Regarding the broadband stimulus money, Boucher urged the cable boys to aggressively apply for the funds. He even said “please.” And who says cable-cos don’t make passes at Congressmen who wear glasses?
Boucher went on to promise that conditions “imposed relating to nondiscrimination and open access should not be onerous to the extent that they discourage applicants from applying.” Of course, he is a Democrat who thoroughly understands that abstinence only doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, just as the petting party is heating up, Verizon, Comcast, at&t (among others) are lobbying state legislatures to prohibit municipal broadband. At the front of the lobbying is Connected Nation, which counts Verizon, Comcast, at&t and the National Cable Telecommunications Association among its advisors, according to http://www.BNet.com.
Karl Bode of http://www.DSLReports.com is quoted as saying “[Connect America] takes state taxpayer funds under the pretense of effectively mapping state broadband services, but then acts by and large as an extension of the incumbents — obscuring data they don’t want public, while lobbying state lawmakers on carriers’ behalf.”
Mmmm…where have we seen that before? Can you say statewide cable franchising? $50 to the first person who connects Dick Armey with Connected Nation! No really, I will send you $50.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last time, a Democrat swooned over the cable industry’s advances. In fact their swooning is getting a bit tedious, it’s like watching teenagers making out at the mall, too much public show of affection kiddies, maybe you should get a room. Do these people have no shame or is this just the logical conclusion of a society that has lost its moral compass? What next? Former representatives working for the industry? Industry hacks working for Congress? Next thing you know representatives will work for the industry while actively serving in Congress. Oh, the humanity!
Another link on BNet.com was to a story about how Cameron Kerry has been nominated by President Obama to be general counsel of the Commerce Department. “Kerry, younger brother of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has represented the cable industry in federal and state court, as well as before the FCC on issues ranging from rate regulation and franchising to FCC license and rulemaking issues. Kerry has represented the cable industry as an attorney with Mintz Levin in Boston and Washington.”
Geesh, and everybody is still upset at former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer for hiring a hooker. Aren’t we all just a nation of hypocrites?
Love is not to be taken lightly. Ships have launched for love. Suicides have been committed. Eyes have been gouged out. Representative Boucher is only answering the call of the siren and who can blame him for wanting to feel doped up?
Friday, March 27, 2009
When I first heard about Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) bill to allow newspapers to become nonprofits, I said to myself “you need to stew on that for a minute.” I felt I needed time to percolate the idea through my little brain and try to think of all the permutations of the impact of that legislation. This morning I caught an email in which the sender asked a serious question:
“Anybody have a clue why it would require "local, national, and international news stories"...why the "and" v. an "or"?
As written, this would favor regional dailies, subscribing to AP, etc., and actually exclude independently owned, truly local community newspapers like your hometown weekly. Is this intentional?”
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have never liked Ben Cardin. It goes back to 1997, when I, as a Maryland resident and constituent, called his office to arrange a meeting. At that time, he was still a lowly Congressman, not a Senator. I was told by his scheduler that Congressman Cardin did not meet with individuals unless they represented some group. I said that I was his constituent and wanted to discuss a matter important to me. She flatly refused to schedule the appointment unless I was coming as a representative of a group. Now I don’t know if she was huffing something that day, but I have never forgotten that conversation and because I carry a grudge like Stalin, I have not since voted for or liked the man.
But back to the legislation.
The concerned emailer is right. Here it is in the bill:
QUALIFIED NEWSPAPER CORPORATION.—For purposes of this title, a corporation or organization shall be treated as a qualified newspaper corporation if—
‘‘(1) the trade or business of such corporation or organization consists of publishing on a regular basis a newspaper for general circulation,
‘‘(2) the newspaper published by such corporation or organization contains local, national, and international news stories of interest to the general public and the distribution of such newspaper is necessary or valuable in achieving an educational purpose…”
Does this mean that our little weekly, The Columbia Flier, could not qualify under this act to gain nonprofit status unless it publishes national and international news? By the way, I don’t want the Columbia Flier to publish national and international news, that’s what the Washington Post is supposed to do. I want the Flier to tell me what the heck happened in my town, that’s where my information gap is, I have little clue as to what is going on locally. The only time I find out that our County Executive is once again spending money like a drunken sailor is when I pick up the Flier.
I am also bothered by “news stories of interest to the general public.” Who is going to decide that? Sue me, but I am completely disinterested in the High School Lacrosse championships, which the Flier spends a good deal of space reporting. And I’m not happy about the “distribution of such newspaper is necessary or valuable in achieving an educational purpose.” Again, who’s going to decide that?
Am I being educated by the latest goings-on of the Kiwanis Club? Maybe, I don’t know. Or the Lost Dog reports? Or the section on whose kid got that fine scholarship to college in the “Why I prefer Burger King over McDonald’s essay contest”? Is there a difference between being “informed” and “educated”? I can be informed all day long but am I really being educated?
As bothered as I am about those sections, I think the next section really set me off:
‘‘the preparation of the material contained in such newspaper follows methods generally
accepted as educational in character.’’
What the heck does that mean? The “preparation follows methods generally accepted as educational in character”?
So I’m some frosh reporter with her first newspaper job. Never mind it’s some dinky hometown paper, I am thrilled to be working as a professional journalist. I go out to cover my first story about how some farmer’s hogs got out and created a major traffic jam on Main Street. I talk to the farmer, I talk to the disgruntled drivers, I talk to the Mayor and the Health Department Director, I write it all down, take my notes and take a few pictures. I go back to the newspaper office and type it all up, attach a picture and send it off to the editor.
Have I just followed methods generally accepted as educational in nature? When my editor approves the story and sends it off to be printed in the next day’s edition, has he or she followed methods generally accepted as educational in nature? At the printing press, as the morning edition is being run, is it being printed through a method that is generally accepted as educational in nature?
I believe in newspapers and I like the feel of newspapers, it’s a tactile experience you can’t get by reading something online, I’m old school that way. The idea that we might be able to save some newspapers by letting them become nonprofits is not a bad one. However, dictating what stories they are going to cover and how they should cover them, does not preserve one of our most precious freedoms, freedom of the press.
Maybe Senator Cardin (and his staff) need to get “educated.” I know it may sound crazy, but a group of people sat around a table and came up with a wild thing called the First Amendment. And since Senator Cardin is so enamored of “groups” rather than individual constituents, maybe he’d be willing to take their suggestion that the press be free from governmental interference, a bit more seriously.
*** Post Note: I've just been told that the language will be changed from "and" to "or" that it was an oversight. However, even changing that part, doesn't remove the other troubling parts of the bill. I still ask "who decides?"
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I love international travel, or any travel for that matter. But going to a country where the culture is different, the language is different and the sites are different from what I am used to, is particularly romantic. The challenge, of course, is in the language. I don’t like having to rely on the good likelihood that I will find English speakers. I like trying to muddle my way, however badly through the host country’s language. I speak a bit of Spanish and read a bit of French and have found if someone speaks to me in French, I automatically respond in Spanish (who knows why). Several years ago when I went to Greece, I listened to tapes for months and months and realized I wasn’t getting it. I finally decided the one phrase you should always know in any language is “Where is the bathroom, please?”
It is no surprise that the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) produced a white paper on broadband deployment that read like Greek to me. The “Moving the Needle on Broadband: Stimulus Strategies to Spur Adoption and Extend Access Across America” whitepaper is a loving testimony to cable broadband deployment. Between 1996 and 2008, Cable has spent, according to the report, “more than $145 billion in capital to enhance their hybrid fiber-coaxial networks.” In 2008 alone, cable spent $14.6 billion and plans on spending about that same amount in 2009. So why step up to the plate to issue a document regarding the federal government’s plan to spend a paltry 4% of what cable has spent? That 4% is a blip, a speck, a fly in the ointment, if you will.
It’s in the report.
“First, the grants should be used to increase broadband adoption and use;
Second, the grants should be competitively and technologically neutral so as not to affect the private marketplace that must continue to take the lead in broadband deployment;
Third, the grants should further the statutory goal of economic stimulus, that is, they should fund value-producing projects that can be implemented quickly and create new jobs;
Fourth, it is essential, as well as statutorily mandated, that the grant-making programs be transparent, accountable, and coordinated with other agencies providing similar aid.”
And it bears translation. Let me take them one at a time.
“First, the grants should be used to increase broadband adoption and use.”
In other words, according to the report, there are 35 million households that have access to the broadband we the cable industry has built, but they aren’t buying our services. If we could get these people the proper computers and have the federal government subsidize the $50 a month we charge for cable modem, can you imagine how much money we will make?
Δεν βρέθηκαν λέξεις.
“Second, the grants should be competitively and technologically neutral so as not to affect the private marketplace that must continue to take the lead in broadband deployment.”
This roughly translates into: “We have done our best in state after state to kill municipal broadband deployment. Do you know how much money we’ve had to spend on lobbying alone? Our efforts have been quite successful and we want it to stay that way and even though we’re only talking about $7 billion, can you imagine what those yokels out in Indiana will do if they get there hands on some of that dough? They’ll build their own networks, charge people less than half and provide speeds that rock while maintaining net neutrality.”
¿Dónde está el baño, por favor?
“Third, the grants should further the statutory goal of economic stimulus, that is, they should fund value-producing projects that can be implemented quickly and create new jobs.”
This means “Our stocks have been sucky lately and we’ve spent way too much money on lobbying for statewide franchising and we’ve had to lay off a few thousand people. That $7 billion would go a long way in helping us re-hire some of those folks and we could still keep spending millions on greasing politicians and luxury retreats for upper management.”
Wo das Badezimmer bitte ist?
“Fourth, it is essential, as well as statutorily mandated, that the grant-making programs be
transparent, accountable, and coordinated with other agencies providing similar aid.”
I had a bit of trouble with this one, so let me give it a go. I believe they are saying “that while we have retained the right in various states to not even report where we are building out, cloaking it as proprietary information that might give our competitors an advantage, we demand that the federal government report to us, the cable industry, what they are doing and why they are doing it.”
Does that make sense? Did I get the general tone of the language and inflection? It’s the conjugations that always give me trouble.
목욕탕은 어디에 있는가?
Oh, and the paper also states:
“In defining geographic areas that represent “unserved areas,” agencies should rely on the FCC’s definition of broadband which would denote areas where there is not at least one provider providing Internet access service of at least 200 kbps in one direction.”
I think that’s a generous definition, don’t you?
Где ванная комната пожалуйста?
Ah yes, it’s great to be well traveled, sophisticated and knowledgeable in the ways of the world. And it’s equally important to be able to find the bathroom because you never know what you might have to flush down the toilet.