Would someone provide the reasons why the City of Manistique's government and educational
channel is, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than when the cable franchise agreement was
ratified some 2 years ago? The City Council, in all its technical ignorance and at significant cost
to the City taxpayers, ratified a new contract that was to provide video production hardware and
John is laughing because the City bought some of the best lawyers to represent community interests in the cable business. A commendable draft was created, consistent with current knowledge in a dynamic business. The Council then approved the basic draft as a desirable contract, negotiating for little more (if anything) than what was due by federal mandate. As a consequence, the precedent was set for all other U.P. communities with a "state of the art contract" negotiated by Manistique in the "best interests" of its residents.
Why should John cry? I suspect he isn't. He should continue to smile about the good value that Bresnan got from Manistique's cable franchise contract. Compared to what Manistique and other U.P. communities should be due, based on de facto small community standards elsewhere in the country, Bresnan's good will? "share" of the legal bill, was money well spent. Think about the implications, imagined or otherwise. Is it possible that it made a difference in the deal that resulted in the change of ownership of facilities and service from Bresnan to Charter?
The new school funding ballot proposal was voted down today, for the third time. I wonder; if the
local tv facilities had been working for the last 2 years, would good video presentations have made
a difference? Not much point in musing, it is obvious it wasn't deemed important by either faction,
or City Council and administration.
The Manistique City Council meeting, scheduled for last night, was cancelled due to lack of a quorum of members. The television equipment training session was also cancelled. Current intentions call for the next council meeting, on May 29 at 7:30 PM, to be televised as part of an equipment use training session.
The Manistique City Council meeting was televised over cable channel 21, last night. Other than some minor, self conscious babbling, the historic event was tolerated well by council members. The system will make it more convenient for residents to attend the council meetings and see an important part of local government in action.
During the equipment setup and "training" session of 05/30/01, I noticed the absence of equipment operation and service manuals. At that time, and subsequently, I made City Manager, Allan Housler, aware of the importance and necessity of those operations and service manuals. Since that time, from folks that have a personal or professional interest in following the televised government meetings on cable channel 21, I have heard a variety of complaints about the quality of the sound of those televised meetings over Charter Communications' cable system.
It is now 9 months after the first televised council meeting and still no operational or service manuals and still distorted sound complaints. Council persons, with purple faces, accompanied the distorted sound, as verified by me, listening to and watching, on tv, the City Council proceedings of 02/11/02. All other basic cable channels had acceptable sound, and good color hue, saturation, and white balance.
Those that operated the equipment on 02/11/02, when asked by me about the audio distortion and video "flashing" at the time, claimed to be ignorant of such problems or considered the apparent problems as "cable system" problems due to power outages. When I pointed out that all other channels, but 21, were fine, and suggested the problems might be related to the equipment they operated or the manner in which they operated it, I was met by blank stares.
The fact that no other channel but 21 had the video flashing and distorted sound had no apparent meaning to them.
It was suggested that the versatile high quality microphone system was not suitable and might be responsible for the poor sound quality. When I pointed out that there was mixing equipment to set and balance the output levels of all microphones, I was met with silence and blank stares, again.
At this time, it is the Charter Communications name that is associated with the poor quality of the channel 21 transmissions. The transmissions are over a Charter Communications cable system. It was Charter Communications that supplied the equipment, without manuals. It was a Charter Communications employee that set up the equipment and instructed local "trainee" operators. It was a Charter Communications employee that programmed the transmitted title that 'This meeting is brought to you by Charter Communications'. Therefore, some folk conclude that the shoddy broadcasts are the responsibility of Charter Communications.
By the lack of formal complaints, it is apparent that few folk care whether the City of Manistique is more responsible than Charter Communications, for the poor quality transmissions. It is equally obvious that the local Charter office cares little about the quality of the local product to which it attached its name.
While perusing my web page statistics, today, I traced back a visit from Charter Holding Company, of St. Louis, Mo. Large corporations scan web pages for various reasons, most pertaining to their business. One reason is to locate and facilitate the removal of information that may be detrimental to their business image. It is possible that someone in our fair city may receive a communication from a concerned Charter representative, in the foreseeable future.
It is possible that they do not want to be associated with purple faces and distorted sound.
On 04/22/02 I addressed Manistique City Council about the poor quality of the local cable channel transmissions, in writing, as follows:
"First, I have heard numerous complaints for almost a year, from the tv viewers of the televised City Council meetings, concerning the difficulty to understand the distorted sound. I have heard it stated, by some of those same viewers, that they are not sure if the televised purple faces, along with the distorted sound, indicate an alien heritage of certain council members.
I have spoken, privately, on several occasions, to the City Manager concerning the quality of the tv transmissions and measures needed to provide a quality "show". To date, I have no reason to believe that there has been any more than lip service to my voiced concerns. Perhaps Council members can insure that the quality "problems" are resolved, if for no other reason than the association of Charter Communications and Manistique Council with a Third World quality product.
If asked, I will offer Council the same technical suggestions I offered the City Manager, over the past year. Maybe Council should choose to consult the business that delivered, installed and provided instructions for use of the television equipment.
I, and others, can only hope that it will not take another year, or more, to provide the public with more intelligible televised meetings."
It is not often that I start an editorial immediately following a public meeting. Usually I think about the business that I witnessed, and then start the following day, or, depending on the business at hand, perhaps a year or more later. The public business that I write about, now, I have considered for years, waiting for the right time. The right time is now.
Don Gladwell, regional Government Relations Administrator for Charter Communications, addressed the Manistique City Council regarding the renewal of the current cable television service franchise. He stated that he was at the meeting to inform the council members, and the public, of the franchise process, and that he would address questions from council members, and members of the attending public. His presentation was the last agenda item prior to the "public comments" period of the Manistique City Council agenda for 02/14/05.
He made a great public presentation. He knew his stuff and represented the best interests of Charter Communications while making council members, and the public, aware of the options they had. I had to listen carefully, and think quickly, to understand what he said and what it implied. After he finished his presentation, he asked council members if they had any questions.
Only one council member asked a question. Councilman Dan Evonich asked if a franchise fee could be added to internet service accounts. Don said no, broadband data is not television programming, and there are no longer any regulatory provisions for broadband data franchise fees, as there had been in the past, in other commmunities.
There were no more questions from council members, so Don Gladwell repeated his offer to answer questions from the public. Immediately following Gladwell's repeated offer to answer questions from the public, Mayor Hoag opened the "public comment" portion of the council meeting.
I knew that my candid and direct style of business was likely to make some council members uncomfortable. I assumed, from Gladwell's presentation, that he was knowledgeable, prepared, tough, and had three missions: to maximize Charter's profits, minimize their expenses, and deal with the public in a civil and forthright manner without giving away any value; from behind armor of self confidence and competence. He was prepared for my candid questions. He had no difficulty answering them and showed no discomfort from my pointed questions. He was professional.
I was ignorant, as I assumed everyone else was, so I asked Gladwell a series of logically connected questions to gain a sound understanding of two issues of importance to me, but, apparently, to no one else. He offered no information that I did not request.
My first questions regarded the statement that he made in his presentation regarding ...franchise fees can be up to 5% of Charter's gross cable television program revenues from a community's subscribers. After my questions, regarding the source of the franchise fees, there was no doubt in my mind that the franchise fees were not derived from Charter's gross revenue for providing television programming.
Any "franchise fees" authorized by Manistique City Council, and collected by Charter, for the City of Manistique, would be added to the existing billed costs of television programing of all Charter cable television program subscribers, in the City of Manistique.
To state the reality of the franchise fee process that Gladwell referred to, it would be the equivalent of a tax on cable tv subscribers, imposed by Manistique City government, to be used in whatever fashion that the whims of City Council dictate. Any franchise fee would not come out of Charter's gross revenues, because the franchise fee would be added to their gross revenues, as a 5%, or lesser charge, billed and collected by Charter, for the City of Manistique, as authorized by a majority of Manistique City Council members.
From my perspective, any cable tv programming franchise fee would be the equivalent of the 9-1-1 emergency telephone service surcharge that is added to a telephone subscriber's phone bill, and collected by the telephone company, for the county. The 9-1-1 surcharge does not come from the telephone company's gross revenue anymore than a cable tv franchise fee will come from the cable company's gross revenue. Any suggestion to the contrary implies, to me, a form of deception.
Regarding the subject of my second cable tv franchise interest, I asked Mr. Gladwell questions related to what the City of Manistique had to gain by renewing the franchise with Charter. I noticed nothing new, to me, in his answers to the questions I asked, in my effort to gain a better understanding of Charter's obligations, if any. Beyond Charter support for the annual local C.B.C. telethon, and providing a federally mandated government - educational channel, I condensed his message to, "By law ya gotta sign a franchise with someone if ya want cable television program service." OK, but...
During the process of gaining a better understanding, none of the council members expressed any interest beyond some obvious visual symptoms of discomfort with my probing questions that sought some definitive reason(s) of why Charter required the permission of Manistique City Council to sell city residents television programming. DirectTV delivers satellite television programming to me, with superior video, audio and options, directly and cheaper, without city council permission, franchises, franchise fees, or any other form of local government involvement, or meddling. So what was the "community" due in exchange for a franchise, beyond some assurance that Charter would conduct their business, in the City, in a legal, ethical, and responsible manner?
I had considered the possibility that perhaps, as in some communities, elsewhere, Charter uses public infrastructure or right of ways that have a cash value. Don Gladwell informed me that such was not the case, in Manistique. Don said that, to the best of his knowledge, Charter has contractual agreements with other businesses to provide its infrastructure and rights-of-way needs, in Manistique.
At this point in the public comment period, and Don Gladwell's invitation to field franchise related questions from the public, I was cut off by Councilwoman Rantanan, who proceeded to tell me that my questions were not appropriate for the public comment period, and if I chose, I could address my questions to Mr. Gladwell, after the city council meeting was adjourned.
I chose not to take up the challenge of a public pissing contest, in front of the tv cameras, regarding the City of Manistique policies concerning open meetings, and the importance of council members, as well as members of the general public, to accept an invitation, from a qualified professional, to understanding relevant issues. I continued to ask my questions, of Don Gladwell, for an additional five minutes, after the council meeting was adjourned, some ten minutes later.
Now that the questions were private, and off camera, courtesy of a Manistique City Council that, obviously, had nothing more to learn, I continued my questions in peace without the admonishment of someone I had every reason to believe, at that time, barely understood any of the technicalities and implications referred to by Gladwell, in his prior presentation that evening.
Having established a basis for my understanding, in public, that Charter owed the community nothing, beyond what was acquired by the City in its franchise business with Bresnan Communications, before Charter acquired Bresnan's local assets, I got to the question I wished to direct, in public and on camera, to Charter's Government Relations Administrator, Don Gladwell. That question was the focus of my recently dispelled ignorance, a public process terminated by Councilwoman Rantanan, and approved of by the balance of Manistique's City Council members.
Relative to Manistique's considered cable tv franchise agreement, with Charter, what does it take to get a television system, similar to that used in Manistique City Hall, installed and operating at the Schoolcraft County Courthouse, for the purpose of televising Schoolcraft County government business on the local government and education channel?
Don Gladwell's response can be reduced to two words - "Franchise negotiation."
His answer then prompted my final unasked question, "Do you think that the Manistique City Council members are aware enough, knowledgeable enough, and willfull enough to ensure that Manistique gets what it is due? My answer, to my own unasked question, denied the proper source, form and context by Ms. Rantanan is, "Aware enough? Yes. Knowledgeable enough? I doubt it. Willfull enough? It remains to be seen."