City Council members, PPH, and Common Cause call for delay in FCRC vote

As reported in Crain’s NY Business, consumer groups want franchise delay. After taking our concerns to the public hearing yesterday, we will join City Council members on the steps of City Hall today at 11:00am.

At the press conference, Councilmember Gale Brewer (chair of the Technology in Government Committee), Councilmember Tony Avella (chair of the Zoning and Franchise Committee), Susan Lerner from Common Cause/NY, Russ Haven from NYPIRG, Chuck Bell from Consumers Union, and I will call for a delay in the Franchise and Concession Review Committee vote on the proposed cable franchise for Verizon to permit greater public scrutiny.

A deal of this magnitude deserves more than a passing glance from the public and our elected officials. It will largely determine how we watch TV, make phone calls, and use the Internet in New York City for the next 20 years. The fine print tells you that this franchise is not designed to serve all New Yorkers equally. Verizon wants it rubber stamped before enough of us notice.

For my specific concerns with the deal, read my testimony here. The response from DoITT to these concerns were insufficient. For example, when Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer asked why the penalty for a missed appointment dropped from a month of free service to $25, the answer was that “competition” will ensure good customer service.

Even if that were true, the new, lesser consumer protections will soon be written into the new Time Warner and Cabelvision franchises and go into effect immediately citywide. Meanwhile, the “competition” from Verizon that is supposed to provide a new and improved protection will go into effect slowly and unevenly. Huge portions of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens will have no competition and weaker protections for the next 4-9 years. That’s just bad policy.

For other criticism of the hearing schedule, see Bruce Kushnick, “Is New York City and Verizon trying to slip one by you?” and Broadbandreports.com, “Interested In Pretending You Have Influence On Verizon/NYC Deal?

Although this might be getting ahead of myself, this whole situation shows that we need procedural reforms in the franchising process:

  • The public notice of hearings needs to be more extensive.
  • The proposed franchise agreement needs to be made available for public review.
  • There needs to be more time for public review.
  • We need a Cable Franchise Oversight Committee with direct community participation.
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