This past Wednesday (2/16/05), I attended my final official meeting as a member of the Montgomery County Maryland Cable Communications Advisory Committee. I had served for four years, outlasting only one other member. I had requested another term but was turned down by the County Executive. I was not surprised.
During my term, I was responsible for numerous recommendations to the executive and the council that they didn't want to hear. For instance, I wrote a number of statements during the Comcast-AT&T transfer process recommending changes to the proposed franchise. (Most of my recommendations were ignored.) I wish I could have enjoyed the council's dismay when Comcast raised their rates shortly after the new franchise was approved. Although Comcast had promised that the rates would not rise "due to the merger" it was an empty promise and no one should've been surprised that Comcast could find other justifications to hike the rates.
Most recently, I authored a statement regarding Comcast email that included such recommendations that customers avoid relying on @comcast.net addresses and, for that matter, using Comcast email for anything of importance. Despite my departure, the committee has vowed to proceed with the email recommendations. The committee also promised to keep watch over another of my efforts - a "Citizens Guide to Cable Service in Montgomery County" that describes the major rights and responsibilities of cable customers. The guide was unanimously approved by the committee and is now in legal review by the County.
I'm somewhat less pleased with my attempts to establish performance requirements for cable service. At a later time, I'll try and write all this up but the end result of this was the creation of an adjuticatory commission that has the power to assess penalties of up to $1000 directly against the cable companies, payable to customers. Sounds great and while groundbreaking (no other cable locality has such powers or even touches upon internet regulation), a good degree of its claws were gutted during passage of the bill.
And the final sin I committed was to prepare a letter describing how Comcast provides community support in such a way as for politicians to personally benefit. I'm not saying money ends up on their pockets. But when a politician is, for example, invited to accept a check from Comcast on behalf of that politician's favorite charity or constituents, I see that as a problem. Especially when those same politicians are the same people who approve contracts between the county and Comcast.
So as I said, the Executive was undoubtedly happy to see my term come to an end. As for the one person who outlasted me, he is the Rockville representative (I was in an at-large seat) and is appointed by the City of Rockville, so the Executive had no say in his continuing service. Carry on the good work, Kernan and everyone else in the CCAC. It's a good committee and all the members are sincerely interested in doing the right thing. I enjoyed the time I spent working with all of them.
Ok, enough horn tooting. On to the meeting.
As usual, the status of Verizon FIOS was a hot topic and I again asked if the Verizon has started the franchise ball rolling. Verizon has permits to use the rights-of-way for fiber and can offer internet service but they must obtain a franchise agreement before rolling out video (TV) service. The short answer is no - Verizon has not made any official franchise overtures. According to Jane Lawton, MC Cable Office Administrator, it is expected that such a process would take about 4 months.
Rather than go through the whole meeting in order, I'll let rip the most surprising item first. The city of Rockville has not given permission for Verizon to install FIOS in the rights-of-way. Ouch! That's right - no FIOS for Rockville, the county seat and smack in the center of the county. Will the rest of MC get FIOS? It sure looks that way - in general - but the few parts (8, I believe) that are municipalities have the power to go their separate ways, and for now, that's what Rockville is doing.
Alas, I have no more time to blog today and will provide more details tomorrow about what's going on with Rockville and Verizon.