Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 22, 2009

Talking with the Evil Empire

Filed under: Comcast — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:06 pm

Talking with the Evil Empire
On Dec 14, I commented on a City Council Order regarding a poll being conducted by Comcast. Here’s what I said:
I don’t know what the Evil Empire of Comcast is up to with this poll, but I’ll be happy to offer some feedback right here. It was not very nice to take away virtually all of the TV stations for Basic Analog Cable customers other than those that can be picked up off the air. Except for New England Cable News, CCTV, and the municipal stations, everything else recently vanished. Perhaps some stations would return if I got their digital service, but I expect that will require at least another $50 per month for the privilege of getting back some of these commercial-laden stations and it’s hard to justify this. I believe I’d have to pay close to $100 per month to see any Red Sox games. Meanwhile, Comcast is in the process of buying the National Broadcast Company (NBC) from General Electric for perhaps $35 billion. Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him to break up the trusts?

My inclination is to say good-bye to Comcast. I hope others in Cambridge feel the same way. Of course, I’m sure the Evil Empire will only try to find other ways to restrict access to television programs unless their trolls are paid handsomely in order to buy up even more media companies. Welcome to The World of More.

In response, Comcast’s Marc Goodman had this to say several days later:

I hope you would consider adding my comment to your recent blog post.

Hi, this is Marc from Comcast’s Boston office. Comcast and the City of Cambridge are negotiating a cable license renewal. Part of any cable license renewal is a process called ascertainment where the cable operator works with a third party to assess the interest of local residents in paying for access television and other cable-related needs that are outlined in an actual license. Comcast strongly supports access and CCTV. We look forward to coming to a mutually beneficial agreement for our customers, the city and the company in the months ahead.

And, just to be clear, the only channels that recently moved were from our Standard Cable package as part of our digital network enhancement. This digital upgrade allowed us to double the number of HD channels in Cambridge and introduce even faster Internet speeds of up to 50 Mbps. All current Standard Cable customers are eligible to obtain up to three pieces of complimentary digital equipment as part of this enhancement. And unlike our competitors, Comcast still chooses to provide an analog basic cable option.

As always, feel free to stop by our Cambridge service center at 88 Sherman Street or call us at 1-800-COMCAST or chat with us online at www.comcast.com.

After taking a few days to digest this, here’s my reply (Dec 22):
Marc,
I don’t know why I’m even wasting my time responding to you. Comcast is a predatory company, plain and simple. How else can one describe the practice of restricting access to all stations other than broadcast stations unless one is forced to pay upwards of $70 per month? Comcast chooses to not even offer an affordable package to someone who wants only to add a few basic additions to the most basic lineup. It is now rarely possible to see an old movie on TV because they are only made available on channels in the higher-priced packages. Doesn’t it seem strange that the price jumps from $6.50 per month to about ten times that amount to go from Basic Cable to the next available option?

The truth is that the only reason the City of Cambridge negotiates with you is because they must – there is no competitor willing and able to build a parallel infrastructure. City officials were very eager to talk to RCN or another company the last time the license renewal came up, but the up-front costs kept all potential competitors out – to the eternal detriment of Cambridge residents.

And “just to be clear”, the channels that disappeared recently from Basic Cable customers were most of the stations we used to get. Comcast’s analog basic cable option provides essentially the same thing that anyone can pick up with an antenna, i.e. what you can otherwise get for free. If you want to do me a favor and possibly salvage the Comcast name to at least one customer who is on the verge of quitting you, here’s a request: Give me a package that includes just the broadcast stations and public access stations plus a few Cable news stations and Turner Classic Movies, AMC, and perhaps Comedy Central and a few others at a total cost of around $25-30 per month (and not just a bogus introductory rate that will soon double). Then give me a quote for an a la carte addition of Red Sox games during the baseball season.

If you have an offer like that, we’ll talk. Until then, you are just another employee of the Evil Empire.

Robert Winters
Cambridge Civic Journal
http://rwinters.com

Campaign Finance Activity – City Council 2009 (Jan 1 to Dec 31)

Filed under: 2009 Election,campaign finance,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:55 am

Campaign Finance Activity - 2009 City Council (as of Dec 31)

Candidate
Opening
Balance
Receipts
Expenditures
Balance
Date
#1
votes
$/#1 vote
$ from
Cambridge
donors
Notes
Adkins, Lawrence$34.93$495.00$92.40$437.5312/31/2009103$0.90100%
Cheung, Leland$0.00$7706.85$6445.46$1261.3912/31/2009756$8.5374%$5000 repaid loan
Davis, Henrietta$11185.16$51854.20$62517.68$521.6812/31/20091858$33.6590%
Decker, Marjorie$1867.27$73067.87$72705.44$2229.7012/31/20091285$56.5824%
Flanagan, Mark$0.00$140.35$140.35$0.0012/31/2009112$1.25100%
Glick, Silvia$0.00$10466.22$10184.13$282.0912/31/2009256$39.7895%$2000 repaid loan
Kelley, Craig$6465.86$11635.72$9006.41$9095.1712/31/20091250$7.2188%
Leavitt, Neal$0.00$2906.17$2570.26$335.9112/31/2009136$18.9079%
Maher, David$12827.62$38271.50$37381.60$13717.5212/31/20091286$29.0754%
Marquardt, Charles$0.00$34409.40$31449.90$2959.5012/31/2009385$81.6992%
Moree, Gregg J.$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/200947$0.00
Podgers, Kathy$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/200978$0.00
Reeves, Ken$6401.11$54826.34$58743.04$2484.4112/31/20091166$50.3828%
Seidel, Sam$775.16$24990.25$22988.73$2776.6812/31/2009900$25.5456%
Simmons, Denise$8689.90$34475.78$42062.94$1102.7412/31/20091785$23.5651%
Stohlman, Tom$0.00$5525.00$2646.76$2878.2412/31/2009378$7.00100%
Sullivan, Edward J.$3950.24$25100.00$28313.15$737.0912/31/2009885$31.9937%
Toomey, Tim$34043.27$37974.15$52680.13$9337.2912/31/20091748$33.0045%$5000 repaid loan
vanBeuzekom, Minka$0.00$18576.81$15561.56$3015.2512/31/2009682$22.8276%
Ward, Larry$132.86$16933.34$16595.78$470.4212/31/2009736$22.5578%
Williamson, James$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/200990$0.00

Click on a column title to sort by that field. Click again to toggle between ascending and descending order.

A detailed current summary is available at http://rwinters.com/elections/campaignfinance2009.pdf

All information derived from the campaign finance reports at the OCPF website.

Information on all City Council and School Committee candidates may be found at the Cambridge Candidate Pages.

December 21, 2009

Dec 21, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:20 am

Dec 21, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

This is the last meeting of the 2008-09 City Council term and the last one for Councillor Larry Ward who was not reelected in the November election. As much as I look forward to the arrival of newly-elected Leland Cheung to the City Council, I would have preferred to see someone other than my neighbor and friend Larry Ward vacate the seat to make room for the new guy. Life goes on and Larry will continue to be a bigger-than-life presence in the neighborhood as he has always been. I know that his Council colleagues and the City administration appreciated his time on the City Council.

There are 10 responses by the City Manager to Council requests for information on tonight’s agenda. This leaves only 22 out of 305 such requests from this Council term – not a bad response rate. The remaining requests cover truck traffic, traffic at two major intersections, tenant representation on the Housing Authority Board and stimulus money for CHA projects, the Walden Street cattle pass, hoarding, security cameras, library hours of operation, a Women’s Commission report, smoking in parks and outdoor seating areas, noisy rooftop mechanicals, dark sky zoning amendments, a 311 alert system, middle schools, damaged overhead wires, videos for Mac users, playgroups, Lakeview Avenue construction, rodents, and raising chickens.

One notable item on the City Manager’s Agenda is this:

City Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the acceptance of M.G.L. Chapter 32B, Section 20, which will establish an Other Post Employment Liability Trust Fund. This irrevocable trust fund will provide the City a vehicle to make contributions to meet the unfunded liability; and the transfer of $2.0 million from the City’s Health Insurance Claims Trust Fund, which has a balance of $17.7 million to the Other Post Employment Liability Trust Fund. This initial allocation will begin the process of providing future allocations from this and/or other funding sources to the OPEB Trust Fund based on an annual review.

This initiative is part of a long-term change in the way states and cities handle the accounting of these obligations. As reported by the Manager, these recommendations have been in the works since 2007 and “the City has positioned itself to address the OPEB liability in an orderly and planned manner in the future, which has been recognized by the rating agencies as part of its positive credit rating.”

There’s also this procedural Order regarding the forwarding of items not yet acted on to the 2010-2011 City Council.

Order #1. That all items pending before the City Council and not acted upon by the end of the 2009 Legislative Session be placed in the files of the City Clerk without prejudice provided that those proposed ordinances which have been passed to a second reading, advertised and listed under “Unfinished Business” during the 2008-2009 City Council term shall be forwarded to the next City Council and further provided that any items pending in committee may, at the discretion of the committee, be forwarded to the next City Council.   Mayor Simmons

Not that it matters all that much to anyone, but I really wish the City Council would dispose of the following item one way or another:

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Nov 18, 2004 for the purpose of considering proposed amendments to Chapter 2.74 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, the Police Review and Advisory Board (PRAB) Ordinance. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 14, 2005. [Four sections of the proposed amendment were passed to be ordained as amended. Ordinance #1284. The remaining proposed amendments to chapter 2.74 remain on Unfinished Business.]

It’s embarrassing to have items over five years old lingering on the agenda week after week and year after year. There is an ongoing review of police and PRAB matters. If the Council cannot resolve this now, they should refer it to the ongoing review and start fresh in the new Council term. Even proposed amendments to ordinances have a shelf life.

Meanwhile, the speculation continues as to who will be chosen as Chair of the City Council and School Committee in two weeks, i.e. the new mayor. It matters little to most residents, but these two higher salary years can make a big difference in the pension of a city councillor. The selection is something of a strategic contradiction – councillors who do well in the November election are often disadvantaged by the fact that their colleagues don’t want to strengthen their hand by giving them the increased visibility of being mayor. Some people get all worked up about this short period of conflict among councillors, but this usually (and hopefully) passes quickly. It is, after all, not really that big a deal. – RW

December 14, 2009

Dec 14, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:53 pm

Dec 14, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight’s meeting will be the next to last of the 2008-09 City Council term with one more to go next Monday. It’s notable how the number of Council Orders and Resolutions drops precipitously after Election Day. The City Manager has 7 responses to City Council requests on his agenda (dealing with parking, police details, the Red Line, tree wells, railroad tracks, trash pickup, and scabies), but we are blessed with just 3 new City Council Orders. Fortunately, Councillor Davis submitted the following Order before flying the coop on her way to Copenhagen:

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments including the Inspectional Services Department and the City Solicitor to report back to the 2010 City Council in January on what barriers would prevent residents from raising chickens and what could be done to remove these barriers.   Councillor Davis

I have met these chickens and I hope we can provide them legal, affordable housing in Cambridge. This reminds me of the rooster that used to live behind a house on Columbia street diagonally behind the Squirrel Brand Community Garden (before the City sacrificed half the garden to build an underutilized mini-park in the name of community access – but I digress). I don’t know whether the rooster died or was evicted, but it was once a marvelous thing to hear the cock crow while visiting that garden. I’m sure the “new people” moving into the neighborhood did not appreciate that bird as I did.

So, let’s change the ordinances to allow the chickens to come home to roost. Maybe we should get some cows to graze on the Common while we’re at it.

There’s also this:

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cable Television Department to determine the reason for Comcast to be conducting a poll regarding the City’s Cable Channels and CCTV channels.   Councillor Toomey

I don’t know what the Evil Empire of Comcast is up to with this poll, but I’ll be happy to offer some feedback right here. It was not very nice to take away virtually all of the TV stations for Basic Analog Cable customers other than those that can be picked up off the air. Except for New England Cable News, CCTV, and the municipal stations, everything else recently vanished. Perhaps some stations would return if I got their digital service, but I expect that will require at least another $50 per month for the privilege of getting back some of these commercial-laden stations and it’s hard to justify this. I believe I’d have to pay close to $100 per month to see any Red Sox games. Meanwhile, Comcast is in the process of buying the National Broadcast Company (NBC) from General Electric for perhaps $35 billion. Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him to break up the trusts?

My inclination is to say good-bye to Comcast. I hope others in Cambridge feel the same way. Of course, I’m sure the Evil Empire will only try to find other ways to restrict access to television programs unless their trolls are paid handsomely in order to buy up even more media companies. Welcome to The World of More.

Other business on tonight’s agenda includes 6 City Council committee reports as our elected officials scurry to close out the books for this term. There’s also the official word from the Election Commission that the School Committee Recount returned the same winners (after considerable cost even though there was essentially no chance that the results would change). — RW

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