Cable TV Franchise Woes

In New England, we have bragging rights to municipal services that other parts of the country don’t have or have deficient quality of services. In this situation, it’s Cable TV Franchise Fees to be used to fund cable TV for communities.

There is a long winded history of how it began and where it has evolved. The Federal Communications Commission had imposed a mandatory requirement that cable system providers fund the town for up to 5% annually of their gross funds. Most recently (say the last 30 years) every community has been wired for Cable TV (Internet and telephony services are excluded from the scope of franchising) so most communities have built facilities for Public, Education and Government Access channels or PEG Channels.

Depending on the leadership, the financing of quality of community access channels can be radically different. Some towns have limited access to public access programming, and some have been really progressive. Some even have only one PEG channel and it’s shared between the public, and the local boards.

In New Hampshire, “Live Free or Die” means citizens die while employees of government can live free, with the authoritative system enabling bureaucrats and crippling non state workers (i.e the residents.) Meaning that there isn’t that much PEG protection of how franchise fees can be funded like Massachusetts. Many communities in New Hampshire just use all allotted funds to use for the General Fund (i.e. for “taxpayer relief”, meaning that customers who are paying cable TV bills could be paying an extra “tax”. BUT if communities were smart to firewall the funds, then the franchise fees wouldn’t be a tax.
In late November, the F.C.C. Chairman, Ajit Pai (or Commissioner Pai’d Off) had looked at the idea of eliminating the requirement of cable systems to fund any of the Cable TV franchise fees. To be honest, this has been talks going as far back as a couple decades, often perceived as empty threats. Now the threat is real.

Where I live in Merrimack, New Hampshire, it’s widely known amongst some circles and from my own observations that government employees have the right to do whatever their hearts content while citizens are often punished. (I have talked about my police department experiences in the past on this site, which will be refrained in future discussions.) Democracy is in question in this town. Very few people come up to vote outside of primaries and General Election. In April 2017, that “deliberative session” had only 1,600 people showing up to vote out of nearly 20,000 registered voters, one of the largest towns of such in the state!

Merrimack’s voters themselves are nothing to write home about. Most residents are not well informed, (I will refuse to say they are undereducated, it’s all about awareness) and believe in conspiracy theories. They feel that Merrimack has been specifically punished with the setup of the F.E. Everett Turnpike system, and feel because the New Hampshire Department of Transportation isn’t giving little-ol-peons-in-little-ol-Merrimack-NH a break, then they have had almost verbal riots during the construction of the Airport Access Road in late 2010. A few years before, they also initated “boycotts” of using the Everett Turnpike because again, they implicitly believe the State’s DOT had designed the turnpike to “punish Merrimack residents”. People with a moderate social strata would realize this is childish politics with people who must’ve dropped out of high school. (This type of childish behavior returns later on…)

The Town Council gets elected by a few, and it’s really apparent they don’t understand governance. If you have a board who doesn’t understand municipal government, along with the top level managers, then you have some really odd things that can occur. Meanwhile the “statewide newspaper”, The Union Leader and the FCC-licensed commercial TV station, WMUR-TV in Manchester treating such bi weekly meetings as probably “mundane”, they however are indirectly giving the powerful people the power without any accountability (which is a violation to a social norm with regards to democracy in the United States.)

Now the picture is painted, let’s now tell you the real story with lack of a democratic system that could be punishing a service to protect democracy.

Going back to the Cable TV Franchise Agreement, these processes are very mundane and pretty simple if you have been on a council or board of any U.S. municipality. It’s almost like right of passage for any person who has been elected, even if they only get paid soup and nuts. However, for the Town of Merrimack, N.H. it was really apparent it was too much information. The board melted like snowflakes, despite it being 90° with humidity in the middle of summertime. They never had to deal with this type of contract, one councilor stated it was “legalese”,  they freaked the fuck out for no logical reason.

Earlier that evening a resident spoke up in a similar way where locals get angry against the establishment.

The next meeting had more fireworks against Comcast by another resident

Again the anger was against Comcast and not the content distributors like Viacom, Disney or even the local affiliate groups like Hearst, no anger against “dual revenue streams” or ridiculous sports “rights” all networks have imposed at the local level (affiliates>retransmission rights> cable subscribers= “the consumer”)

When the Department head of Media Services spoke on September 13th, sadly this long winded presentation was to clarify the public’s anger over the big evil Comcast against little ol Merrimack and understand this contract was for only Cable Television.

Just use a fucking search engine citizens!

Prior to mid September, the two known residents and the board clearly lacks

  • How to govern a municipality
  • How to handle mundane things that Merrimack is not exempt from the rules (as of right now)
  • How to respond and not react to a “40 page legal document that has small print that I am going to act out like a 10 year old because I will not adult and follow up with a Cable Television Franchise Agreement”
  • How “consumers” really think so illogically and are so misinformed and how they react in public hearings.
  • How media literacy is really apparent (not understanding the cable industry since the late 1980s, and phrases like “retrans”, “dual revenue streams” and other important facts that you can read up the industry on free to read online pages like Broadcasting & Cable).

The next post makes this writer be part of the story and wasn’t on the sidelines for that long.