Saturday, April 28, 2007

GettysBLOG: 3-Ring Circus Hits Fairfield Over Comcast

This just gets more and more absurd all the time. One of the clowns governing Fairfield Borough claims the borough needs to have an ordinance governing where and how people may install their satellite dishes. According to the Gettysburg Times, Court Jester Ron Shanks raised the issue by asking, “Do we want to have these things being visible all over town?”

That question comes on the heels of many local government officials claiming they have no ability to force the local cable provider, the megalithic Comcast Corporation, to control their rates and offer better tier selection. Many municipal leaders voiced options that included satellite service. Such dishes are small [less than two feet in diameter] and an unobtrusive gray in color.

Do you smell government intrusion here? We are not talking about the old six foot diameter dishes that still inhabit some back yards. Technology has certainly come a very long way since they came out.

Ronald Reagan once said, "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it." Apparently local government in Adams County works the same way.

The townships receive money from the cable company. It is called a franchise fee. It is paid on the basis of the number of utility poles on which the cable is strung. Most municipalities feel that is of limited leverage when trying to gain concessions from the cable company, and indeed it is. One township agreed to have the fee, which is then passed on to the customers in their bill, returned to those customers. It would amount to a few cents each month. The local governments claim they have no leverage over Comcast other than to urge their dissatisfied customers to switch to the dish.

Meanwhile, Comcast reports an increase in profits of 80%!

There is, however, even more they can do. They can complain to the FCC, officially, and have the FCC work as an intermediary in gaining concessions. They can also work through the US Congress, and even the State government. Perhaps it is time to declare the cable industry a “utility” and regulate them that way.

Even more, there ARE other alternatives. Indeed, Gettysburg Borough is exploring an alternative to the high rates Comcast charges for Internet access. They are considering inviting a company in to install wireless Internet access throughout the town, for about $18-20 per month.

The electric utilities are testing Internet access over your power lines, and it is a technology not quite ready for prime time, but it is coming.

With fiber-optic cable installed by the phone companies, they may also be able to deliver something akin to cable Television over your phone line.

Even now, many areas can bundle a package of telephone service, Internet access via variable high speed DSL, and satellite dish television for very attractive rates. Embarq [was Sprint] even promises never to raise the rates on any of the deals once you sign up. Verizon also offers a similar package.

There are, then, more than a few options for most people.

What absolutely astounds us about this whole issue is that no one, absolutely no one has picked up on the fact that when Comcast changed its lineup from the old Adelphia one on March 1, no one has been given a card with their channel lineup on it, nor can you find it by creating an online account and clicking on the “channel lineup” link; some premium HD stations are duplicated; and not only are we still, two months later, without the promised and heavily advertised Video on Demand, but our selection of Pay Per View channels is limited to Adult Only movies and Wrestling! 80% profits and they cannot fulfill the simplest customer service requests.

We find this insulting. Even more so when we call to complain and ask when it is going to change, we are told, “I’m sorry, I do not know,” by the ultra polite but ultra useless customer service reps who have the unfortunate luck to answer the phone.

This kind of shabby and insulting treatment reprehensible.

Complaints to the Better Business Bureau coming from the various townships and even County government would be helpful as well. Large corporations should not be permitted to act arbitrarily and with impunity. There must be some recourse for “the little guy”, and it must be easy to access and use. [Is there anyone who would not file a complaint against Exxon Mobile, after they repeatedly raise the price of their oil, claim it is a supply and demand thing, and then boast of obscenely large profits on a quarterly basis? Exxon Mobile’s profits could fund a large part of our national budget! We are not about the redistribution of wealth, but there are limits! What about the shoddy overpriced performance of Comcast? Is it really any different than Exxon Mobile gouging the public for record profits?]

Ronald Reagan also said, "No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.” We urge you to go to your township or borough meetings and voice your complaints to them, not just about dishes, and cable, but about being too intrusive by over regulating the rights of homeowners, while giving away the store by greasing the skids for the enormous development of the county.

Those supervisors, zoning board member, borough council members, and County Commissioners are YOUR employees. You put them in office to work for you, not against you. Go to the meetings and start taking back your government from the hands of the monied interests. Do not be afraid to cross party lines in an election, and by all means, start getting rid of those who are currently in office. Your local governments exist now only to serve those with money who seek to make a profit. They are deceitful to the public when they assert what they can and cannot do. They have lawyers called solicitors [there is a connotation with that word that is appropriate for what they do], who often act as a mouthpiece for the supervisors in much the same way as the consigliere does for mob families - and for similar purposes. Lawyers are frequently paid to lie because they, supposedly, can lie their way out of it by parsing the argument down to semantics.

It is time to have great turnover in local government to signal that power is being restored to its rightful place: the hands of the people.

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