In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.
Archive for cable
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.
The City and Verizon have negotiated a deal that will have a greater impact on our television watching and Internet usage than any other action the City or a company will take in the next 20 years – and you have been shut out of the discussion. The 6-billion-dollar deal (see my earlier post for background) to build a fiber optic network throughout the entire city was negotiated behind closed doors.
As part of the franchise approval process, the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) is required to hold a public hearing. That meeting will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, May 20, from 3-6pm at the New York City College of Technology, 285 Jay Street.
As far as I can tell, this is the first place this information has been posted online. This is another instance of a supposedly “public” meeting falling in the city where no one can hear it. Just because you don’t lock the doors doesn’t make the meeting public.
Section 371 of the City Charter prescribes for the publication of notice for a public hearing on a proposed franchise agreement, but the requirements are weak: publish in the City Record and a daily newspaper – nothing about the DoITT website, even though that’s where the City proudly proclaimed that it had reached a deal with Verizon. I don’t expect that many people can make it to downtown Brooklyn at 3pm on a workday regardless of how much notice they have, but by not properly publicizing the hearing the FCRC has cast the legitimacy of the entire process into doubt.
The FCRC has also scheduled a special public meeting for 11am next Tuesday, May 27 at 22 Reade Street, presumably to rubber stamp the franchise.
Section 371 also requires that notice of the public hearing indicate the place where copies of the proposed agreement may be obtained by all those interested. I don’t know how the public can be expected to comment on a document they cannot review. (Leaking to the press doesn’t count.) Since the proper city agencies have not done so, I am posting the proposed franchise to the Web for download here:
- Cable Franchise Agreement by and between The City of New York and Verizon New York Inc. (54 pages)
- Appendices A-K to the agreement (79 pages)
(Note: These are not the most up-to-date versions; there have been a few modifications.)
I’ll have my own summary and analysis of the franchise in the near term, but there’s very little to be happy about unless you live in Staten Island or want to wait 10-16 years for choice in cable TV or faster Internet speeds. I will also try to record tomorrow’s hearing.
Yesterday, Verizon proposed to build a fiber optic network covering all of New York City. The proposal comes just one day after the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) published notification of the RFP for cable television providers, which is how you know DoITT’s RFP (request for proposals) and Verizon’s proposal were worked out in tandem over months of closed-door negotiations.
Verizon is offering to finish the installation by midyear 2014, provide a public safety INET (institutional network), pay franchise fees equivalent to five percent of gross revenues on cable TV service, channels for public access. As the precise details emerge and once I’ve had a chance to read the RFP, I’ll give you my assessment on the fine points, but that doesn’t sound like enough off the bat given the scope of the deal.
A hearing from the Franchise and Concession Review Committee is forthcoming. I will keep you posted on that. You should plan to attend.
For background and a discussion of the issues at stake, see the article I just published with Gotham Gazette: Fiber Optics: Bringing the Next Big Thing to New York
This is another example of a phenomenon you may have heard or read me describe before: The general policy and market rules of media simply do not apply to New York City. Other cities are having trouble attracting or holding onto a $20 million investment for a wireless network while New York has a company proposing to invest $5 billion over 6 years to build a fiber optic network and become the second (third or fourth if you count satellite) entrant to the video service. Keep in mind that the incumbents are not citywide: Time Warner and Cablevision currently divide the city between them:
(Click the image to see the map of current franchise areas.)
The scale is hard to fathom. It’s like $100 per person per year or $300 per household, of which there are about $3.1 million – though that’s not counting businesses. It’s around $3 million per year for each of the city’s 322 square miles – as if all those square miles cost the same or were worth the same.
But the rate the money goes into the city is not the most important number. The important number is how fast it goes out. How much will Verizon make off each person, business, or square mile, and over what time frame? Once they put this infrastructure in place, they are going to hold on tight and make as much money as they can off of it. And anyone who wants to compete at the speed levels Verizon will be offering will have to match their massive investment.
We might only get one shot at building a fully fiber optic network for our city. We should try to get it right.
My latest column for Gotham Gazette is on the government-mandated transition to digital television (DTV). It takes you through all of the places where this process can go wrong: the coupons the government is handing out for the digital converter boxes, your TV, your antenna, the broadcaster, and the public education.
Since we published the article, one more snafu has come to light. Everyone I spoke to recommended getting a coupon and a converter and setting up your TV as soon as possible. However, the $40 coupons the government is offering expire 90 days from when they’re mailed. I don’t know why they put an expiration date on them.
It wouldn’t be too much of an issue except the Echostar converter box that is set to retail for $39.99 – the only hope a consumer has to avoid an out-of-pocket expense for this transition – won’t hit the market for another 4 months.
So if you act fast, you’ll have less choice of what kind of converter to purchase. But if you wait, you’ll have less time to fix any problem you have getting a digital picture on your TV.
One other part of the story that didn’t make it into the article but is worth considering is the impact the digital transition will have on tinkering and hobbyists. This came up in my interview with the engineer from WNYW. It was clear that he’d been tinkering with transmitters and electronics his whole life and he lamented the barrier that digital technology posed to anyone getting into that.
Digital signals either work or they don’t. Analog has a grey area that invites tweaking. Most of the digital technology is proprietary and built on secrets, while analog is right in front of you on the motherboard. It’s not easy to understand transistors and capacitors and math and physics, but if you can learn by poking it and assessing the feedback in a way that’s much harder to do with digital.
The WNYW engineer sounded almost wistful when he said that he never understood those Star Trek episodes where a society that had in its possession some advanced technology nevertheless slipped into a primitive state because they couldn’t figure out how to operate or repair the machinery. He always figured you could figure it out through tinkering. But now that he’s installing his station’s new digital transmitters, he sees how alien and impenetrable technology can be.
From a current-day consumer perspective, it’s most absurd that the government coupon and education programs would be so impenetrable. But there may also be a time when we lament not being able to tune a TV with a paper clip or build a radio with a soldering iron and grit.
You can check my article on the hearing on GothamGazette.com.
The super-low-quality audio of the hearing is up here:
- CTANY (the cable industry)
- net neutrality advocates (Joel Kelsey from Consumers Union, Tim Karr from Free Press, and myself) and
- NY City Council Member Gale Brewer, sponsor of a resolution on net neutrality
I’ll have transcripts of the audio up soon.
Don’t Miss MNN’s 15th Birthday Bash!
Celebrate MNN’s 15th birthday by coming out to our Street Carnival Block Party September 15th, 1-6pm in East Harlem at 104th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues! Enjoy live entertainment, free food, games for youth, prizes and video expos! We’ll also be kicking off the development of MNN’s new Uptown Community & Youth Media Center in the historic 104th Street Firehouse. You won’t want to miss some serious old skool carnival fun!
Paper Tiger Television 25th Anniversary Celebration
Join us for the World Premiere of Paper Tiger Reads Paper Tiger Television and a celebration of 25 years of Media Myth-smashing, hosted by Amy Goodman, Bill Tabb and Joan Braderman.
October 11, 2007, 7pm
at Anthology Film Archives in NYC