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Nov 28

Stifling Technology

Comments (2) 12:00 AM posted by admin |

Shortly after being sworn in as a City Councilmember, I had an email account set up so that members of the adoring public could send me communications about how I am leading the City to financial ruin over my extravagant use of the City’s private Fokker 100 (nicknamed “The Ypsi One”).

Anyway. I had my email account (brobb@cityofypsilanti.com) set up at 11:50AM on Tuesday the 14th of November. By 1:50PM, a mere two hours later, I had my first piece of spam.

Luckily, not every piece of email is spam. Until I have the official Ypsilanti Ward 3 web site operational, I can disseminate the information here for your viewing pleasure. So without further ado…

Today, November the 28th, is Cable Franchise Advocacy Day. The Michigan Municipal League is asking all local officials to call our local State Senator and tell him to vote NO on HB 6456.

As I’m probably sure you are all well aware of, the City of Ypsilanti is battling budget issues over things such as the Water Street project, dwindling State Shared Revenue, and the collapse of the auto industry in Michigan. It is for this reason, that every dime we can collect becomes so important. Among the amount of money that is so necessary for the smooth operation of the City is the $160K worth of cable franchise fees the City gets by allowing Comcast to be the exclusive cable extortionist provider for Ypsilanti.

HB 6456 would do away with that franchise fee.

It would, however, replace it with a new fee that would be equal to either the lowest percentage of gross revenue currently paid by the incumbent cable operator or up to 5 percent of gross revenue, whichever is less. Gross revenue is defined as the following:

  • All charges and fees paid by subscribers for the provision of video service, including equipment rental, late fees, insufficient funds fees, fees attributable to video service when sold individually or as part of a package or bundle, or functionally integrated, with services other than video service.
  • Any franchise fee imposed on the provider that is passed on to subscribers.
  • Compensation received by the provider for promotion or exhibition of any products or services over the video service.
  • Revenue received by the provider as compensation for carriage of video programming on that provider’s video service.
  • All revenue derived from compensation arrangements for advertising attributable to the local franchise area.
  • Any advertising commissions paid to an affiliated third party for video service advertising.

It would be in the City’s best interest if we could figure out what gross revenue is. Maybe we win on this one. Maybe we don’t. Regardless, we should know. 

The MML has done an extensive analysis of why we should reject this bill. The talking points are:

  • This bill allows cable companies to terminate ANY current franchise contract immediately. This provision is unacceptable.
  • This bill allows phone and cable companies to redline and cherry-pick neighborhoods and homes. AT&T told its Wall Street Investors it was only going to serve 5% of ‘low-value’ residents. The current local system guarantees that all residents within a certain density receive service.
  • According to cable experts, this bill would result in approximately a $47-$57 million revenue impact to local communities, because of a potential loss of franchise fees and in-kind services provided by current cable company.
  • Right-of-Ways are left unprotected. With the elimination of current franchise contracts, this leaves the current cable company with very little ROW regulations. Cable companies do NOT have to get METRO Act permits.
  • Likely community, school and public access television will be eliminated or cut back due to revenue and in-kind service reductions. There are also several provisions that will increase operating costs on these facilities.

A rather serious list of accusations. 

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy obviously has a different view. Their analysis paints a much different picture. They point out how the cost of cable services in Michigan has outpaced the CPI by more than 50% and how your cable bill has increased by more than 100% in the past fifteen years. They speak of increased competition and eliminating the barriers for entry into the cable market.

So who are you going to believe?

Washtenaw County is touting their Wireless Washtenaw initiative by saying they will be bringing free wireless at dial-up speeds to everyone in the County. If you live in some place like Chelsea, your only choice for highspeed internet access is from one of Steve Pierce’s New Mexico-based companies OpAve Internet. Let’s be honest here for a second, I’m paying more than $40 a month to Comcast so I can have occassional speeds of 6Mbps downstream. Even though we live in the cradle of technological wonder here in Washtenaw County, we are woefully behind the game when it comes to broadband. Something needs to be done. Places like South Korea are blanketed by what they call “infinite bandwidth.” Ninety percent of all homes in South Korea have broadband compared to only 30% here in the United States which ranks 16th in the world.

Will HB 6456 make all of my dreams come true and help Governor Granholm realize her dream of making Michigan a high-tech leader? I dunno. There are some questions that need answered, but this bill has potential. It needs some tweaking and shouldn’t be passed in it’s current form, but if we are going to move Michigan ahead, we can’t be so myopic as to only focus only local issues while ignoring the greater good.

Regardless, I’m going to call Senator Brater and encourage her to vote no on HB 6456. It wouldn’t kill you if you did the same. Call her toll-free at 866.305.0318. The State Senate isn’t voting on this until the 29th, so do your part.

2 Comments »

  1. Comment by trusty getto
    28 November, 2006 @ 2:30 PM


    Mackinac Center = political wing of Halliburton.

  2. Comment by steve
    28 November, 2006 @ 2:49 PM


    Please realize that when Brian said OpAve.com was a New Mexico company, his tongue was firmly planted in cheek. OpAve.com is and always has been a Michigan based corporation. One of the things that a certain current city official as well as a certain former city official had accused me of on the campaign trail was not having any businesses in Michigan. Not true and these two folks as is often the case didn’t have their facts straight and never bothered to ask. I own or am partners in a number of business ventures around the country, two of them are Michigan based including OpAve.com which is headquartered in downtown in Chelsea, Michigan. The other is right here in beautiful Ypsilanti. Cheers! – Steve

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