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The evil empire eats its appetite
by Andrew Barbano
Aug 23, 2008 | 766 views | 1 1 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charter Communications, the regional subscription TV monopoly, announced that it was going to move public, educational and government (PEG) access channels to the expensive, low-viewership digital tier as of this Tuesday.

You stopped them. Thanks.

Herewith, a collection of kudos and brickbats directed toward those who helped the little people prevail and those who sat shiva wailing “woe is us.”

What’s the old cliché? Oh, yeah, the only way evil men can prevail is if good men do nothing.

First, the good guys

Sparks City Councilman John Mayer, the dean of all local officials, was out front as usual. His expressions of concern at a council meeting paved the way for my quickly obtaining experienced legal counsel.

Attorney Neil Grad heard Mayer’s words and was thus up to speed on the issue when I called. He immediately said yes, taking precious time away from his campaign for Sparks city attorney. Grad is former counsel to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and was the city of Sparks’ legal advisor during Charter Communications franchise renewal several years ago.

World-class paralegal Tom Hudson volunteered his very valuable expertise in providing Mr. Grad and me with sparkling research on the extremely complicated legal issues involved. Not knowing what the city of Reno might do in its proposed filing, we had to prepare buckshot rather than bullets. Mr. Hudson proved a very good armorer.

We will keep our powder dry and research ongoing, as Charter has only committed to a 90-day cooling off period.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, returned my call from wherever he was vacationing. He immediately contacted Charter’s vice president in charge of looking out the window and said, “Fix this.”

Townsend also contacted Cox Communications, the cable provider in Gomorrah South, to ascertain that they had no such nefarious intentions. Turns out that the Las Vegas City Council had already reacted to this northern brouhaha and duly expressed concerns to Cox, which assured the LV officials that their government channels would not be affected. (Only Boulder City enjoys full PEG access. Perhaps that will change one day soon if southern Nevada governments listen to their people.)

Assemblymembers Bernie Anderson and Debbie Smith, both D-Sparks, and David Bobzien and Sheila Leslie, both D-Reno, all reacted to their constituents and took action.

They delegated Bernie to attend last week’s meeting of the Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) board of directors. He informed them that Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, had requested a bill draft to remedy flaws in the vague 2007 law which Charter is abusing out of pure greed. Mr. Anderson spent an hour on my TV show last Friday explaining the issues.

The pressure from Townsend combined with Oceguera’s bill draft may have provided the final straws bending the crass corporate camel’s back. Oceguera, a Fallon boy and Las Vegas fire captain, chairs the Assembly Commerce Committee, which will hear any such legislation. Townsend chairs the senate committee with the same purview.

SNCAT producers showed up en masse at Reno City Hall to plead for the survival of their medium. SNCAT executive director Les Smith fired off several timely statements to the media, correcting Charter dissembling and disinformation. The SNCAT staff maintained their normal cheerful business-as-usual attitude even in the face of the potential crippling of their enterprise.

Alone among the five affected municipalities, the city of Reno acted with a swiftness rare among governments. The mayor and council voted unanimously (with one abstention) to seek an immediate court order stopping Charter from assassinating the people’s television stations.

The council convened an emergency meeting Friday afternoon to OK Charter’s proposed moratorium and order city lawyers to back off. I agreed not to file on behalf of my viewers and members at ReSurge.TV.

We will keep our powder dry and legal research ongoing. We will also continue to raise funds for legal expenses. This will not be a short or cheap fight. Comcast cable in Michigan was stopped with a court order in January and the case was heard by a federal judge just last Tuesday. Charter is looking at scoring $12 million a year or more if they complete the destruction of the access channels.

The financial support of the cable system’s users combined with the expertise of Mssrs. Grad and Hudson allowed me to confidently proceed knowing I could back up everything I said.

Contributions may be easily made with a credit or debit card through the organization Web site, ReSurge.TV. Or you can mail a check to ReSurge.TV, P.O. Box 10034, Reno, NV 89510.

And finally, all due respect to veteran Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Susan Voyles, who did her usual polished and professional job.

Now, the bad guys

The Sparks City Council, the Carson City Board of Supervisors, the Washoe and Douglas County commissions, all of whose systems have apparently won reprieve through no effort of their own. The cash-strapped city of Sparks even paid for advertising touting Charter’s channel change.

And especially ...

The Reno Gazette-Journal editorial page. The huge RGJ Sunday editorial on Aug. 17 was a masterpiece of moral obtuseness and bad writing. Good editorial commentary is supposed to state the situation, recommend a solution and conclude with a call to action. The Reno paper made several glaring factual errors on its way to recommending that cable access programmers should seek other outlets, letting Charter destroy the current system.

But there are no alternatives other than to become one of several billion low-traffic Web sites. (YouTube allows all of five minutes, not a good venue for in-depth programming.) Many SNCAT viewers do not have computers. A decade ago, under pressure from NPR, PBS and the commercial broadcast industry, Congress killed low-power TV and radio licensing for community organizations. (Wolfpack radio at 1700 AM is one of the few survivors.)

SNCAT is filling that glaring gap with the creation of KJIV and KJIV.org, which will soon broadcast over full-power 89.5 FM. Les Smith is offering expanded blocks for cable-in-the-classroom at a time when Nevada education budgets are collapsing. That’s a positive call to action.

FYI: Sen. Townsend and Mr. Grad were onetime clients of mine in the 1980s before I began this column for the Tribune.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 39-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. He was a member of the SNCAT founding board in 1990-91 and is former chair of the City of Reno’s Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. He hosts live news and talk (682-4144) Monday through Friday, 2 to 4 p.m., at Barbwire.TV and Reno-Sparks-Washoe Charter cable channels 16 (for at least 90 days) and 216. E-mail barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us. Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988. Tempus fugit.
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ConcernedTaxpayer
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August 24, 2008
Andy, Randolph & Neil, Way to go guys, no matter what your political affiliation. You're all great guys and have my support in your endeavors, and support of us, the taxpaying citizens.
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