Saturday, September 30, 2006

Executive Hearing Testimony

This past Thursday, September 28 2006, I attended the hearing for the public to testify on the Proposed Verizon franchise. There were 15 speakers, most of them members of the public. There were no council members present and the executive (whose hearing it was) was not there either. I was not surprised as the same thing happened at the previous hearing of this type (the last was during the Comcast transfer several years ago).

A few of the presentations were excellent and I hope to get a hold of the transcripts when available. In the meantime, if you're on a Windows platform, you can watch the video. It's about an hour. A discussion of some of the testimony can be found at dslreports.

Here is what I presented. If it seems short, that's because members of the public were asked to keep it to 3 minutes.
My name is Don Libes and I thank you for the opportunity to testify on the proposed Verizon franchise.

Although I look forward to competition in Montgomery County, I am concerned that the county appears to be rushing into this particular agreement without a thorough understanding of what it means.

I have been stymied in understanding it myself. For example, I have asked the county cable office for a list of differences between the current and new franchises and have received no reply. Surely, the council needs such a list as well. Please make this information available along with a clear explanation of the reason for each change and its expected impacts.

I would also like to ask why the county appears to be suppressing much of the background material. For example, roughly 135 pages have been made available. This is in contrast to the roughly 900 pages of material made available during the last Comcast negotiation. What’s missing?

The technology assessment from CTC is completely missing. The assessment from the county’s financial advisors Ashpaugh & Sculco is missing. There’s no correspondence, no indication of discussions, no explanation of the reasons the proposed franchise looks the way it does.

And this is after a year of negotations followed by court actions and mediation, during which the franchise was shaped. There ought to be a huge paper trail and the county needs to provide this to the public. And all PDF documents should be searchable. The council does this; the Executive should as well.

Time will not permit all my other questions but here are a few examples:

Will the existing franchises be changed in any ways to bring them closer in to line with this new one? If so, how?

How are gross revenues for video-on-demand and streaming video to be computed? Does it depend on whether such video is initiated via an internet connection or whether it is transferred using cable TV bandwidth? The franchise is too vague on what is and is not a cable service and leaves consumers open to unpleasant surprises and court battles.

How does the county justify the continuing demand for dedicated PEG channels when they are more effectively provided as video-on-demand? The county continues to do this without any meaningful viewer statistics as far as I’m aware. Just because the FCC says we can doesn’t mean we should. Video-on-demand is the future of narrowcasting and PEGs should lead the way. I believe the cost to the consumer would decrease and PEG viewership would rise if VOD were widely adopted by the PEGs and protected by the franchise.

Lastly, the Verizon application, attachment 4, promises an analog tier in the clear but the corresponding description in the proposed franchise seems quite a bit more narrow. As most subscribers seek to avoid set-top boxes, please address this difference between the two documents.

Thank you for allowing me to testify on the proposed Verizon franchise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for following this closely and asking good questions...