The Checkout

A Win for Phone Companies

Phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T have been chomping at the bit to bring you cable TV service, bundled, of course, with your local phone and high-speed Internet services. And the Federal Communications Commission obliged them yesterday, voting 3 to 2 to make it easier for them to get around pesky local governments that grant franchise agreements.

The new rules approved by the commission will require local cable franchising authorities to act within 90 days on applications from companies such as Verizon and AT&T that have wires in place.

The FCC's decision was a contentious one, with the vote splitting along party lines -- the Rs voting for and the Ds against.

Democratic commissioner Jonathan Adelstein scoffed at the notion that local franchise authorities blocked competition, noting that no community has ever denied a franchise to a cable operator.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said opening the floodgates of competition would hasten the adoption of broadband Internet.

YouTube for everyone!

What to make of all this for consumers?

Well, I'm not sure yet. The FCC's action was a bit moot in a portion of our area. The Montgomery and Prince George's county councils approved agreements last month that let Verizon sell its fiber-optic television service, putting it in direct competition with Comcast and, to a lesser extent, RCN. (RCN also provides service in the District, while Cox Communications is the No. 2 provider in NoVa.)

At the time, Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst at the Consumers Union told The Post's Cameron Barr and Michael Rosenwald that Verizon's entry into MoCo and PG might not lead to lower prices.

The FCC's report on 2005 cable industry prices also suggested that competition from satellite TV hasn't necessarily kept cable rates from going up either.

Average monthly rates for cable service -- including basic and expanded basic cable programming services -- increased by 5.2 percent in 2004, from $40.91 to $43.04.

Since 1996, the report said, average cable rates rose 93 percent. This happened despite aggressive marketing of satellite television services such as DirecTV. (So aggressive that DirecTV agreed to pay a record fine last week for violating the Do Not Call List.) Perhaps prices would have gone up even more if not for satellite TV? The FCC report doesn't address that.

On the other hand, even if prices are roughly comparable, it would still be nice to be able to switch, just to send a message. You can't vote with your feet if you have nowhere to go.

Which leads us to another potential issue with the rules passed yesterday. They nix a requirement that new entrants provide service to all residents in an area. That could allow phone companies to pick and choose what neighborhoods to offer bundled services to while leaving others without alternatives.

How this will all shake out, we'll have to wait and see. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is already questioning the FCC's authority to alter local franchise agreements.

Stay tuned....

Calling all cable TV customers out there: Has the FCC done us a favor? Do you think that Comcast tech will get to your house any faster if he knows you can pick up the phone and switch to Verizon?

By Annys Shin |  December 21, 2006; 9:37 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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First my opinion on the FCC ruling.

The FCC was setup to manage the frequencies in which transmissions are sent. The notion of the FCC determining who and where a company can provide those transmissions is absurd.

The FCC has become an arm of the republican parties' indecency campaign to limit what THEY perceive as indecent. And they are a content monitor as well. A word can be used in a certain context and not be indecent, but use that same word in a context that the FCC sees as indecent and the FCC levies fines. The notion of the FCC being a content monitor is an absurd one too. With very limited policy on indecency and a room full of opinion on what is indecent, the rules are based on the leading party perception.
And now they have giving a ruling that has nothing in the world to do with them.

Second, the FCC determining local issues is a huge violation of home rule. Localities can manage their own service providing rules. They don't need the federal government doing it for them.

Has the FCC done us a favor? No. They are continuing their quest for ultimate interference.

Do you think that Comcast tech will get to your house any faster if he knows you can pick up the phone and switch to Verizon? No. Cable companies have a limited resource on technicians for a service that has expanded beyond their means to control it. They will get to your house when the service queue calls your name. To many problems, not enough techs to address everything right away.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 10:21 AM

The FCC never did the consumer any favors. Why should this ruling be different from any other ruling?

Posted by: Steve | December 21, 2006 10:23 AM

DID THEY DO CONSUMERS A FAVOR? YES, I can't imagine why anyone would be against this FCC ruling. It provides us with more
choices. Its long overdue.

Posted by: Charles | December 21, 2006 10:44 AM

I don't have cable -- refuse to pay $60-$70 a month. I'd pay $20/month tops. So we have Netflix and whatever we can get with free antenna--more than enough.

Posted by: Elle | December 21, 2006 10:47 AM

Charles,

I'm not against the ruling because of choice. I am against a ruling that the FCC has no right to make.

Don't you think an federal agency's purpose/mission should not be altered to interfere with home rule?

This ruling gives a choice of cable companies yes, but it also limits your local government and community's powers to govern themselves.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 11:01 AM

If it means that I can get verizon faster with fiber optic and stop paying all these cable rate increases, then yes, it helps.
However, I must agree with the other poster, that the FCC should not control content. Nor should they impose fines for decency.
Another thing that should be nixed, is the stupid local franchise agreements. Local government tax is like an ATM fee. Should not have to pay it just to have the service.

Posted by: Mike | December 21, 2006 11:04 AM

I recently moved from Columbus, Ohio, where broadband competition is in full swing to a suburb of Cleveland where Comcast, now Time Warner, has enjoyed a monopoly on broadband until recently when Windstream (spinoff of Alltel) began offering broadband. In Columbus, where citizens can choose from at least two cable operators, Time Warner or WideOpenWest, the ease and availability and customer service are easier, faster, better, cheaper, all the way around. I could buy DSL in Columbus for $14.95 a month. Here there is one cable company and one telephone company. I can't get DSL from but one provider and the pricing is double that in Columbus. But since "Windstream" now offers basic television, I called Time Warner and said, "Why should I get cable with you for $50 a month when I can get basic channels from Windstream for $25 a month?" They cut my bill in half for a year. I was also finally able to get RoadRunner Lite for $20 a month. Before, my only option was DSL for $34.95 a month. We need MORE competition, not more consolidation. I've seen it clearly - when I've lived in neighborhoods with robust competition, the pricing is much lower, sometimes more than half. On the other hand, prices don't need to be $10 a month - these companies make HUGE profits - they can afford to provide TV, telephone and broadband internet for $10 a month each and probably less and make huge profits. But that's not good either - they need to be taxed because these are luxury services that people feel they must buy and they're used to paying a lot for them - but these big companies tear up streets, use a lot of energy, etc., to our common detriment. The communities need the tax support to fix all the stuff the energy, cable, TV, telephone, internet companies tear up and use up.

Posted by: TLawyer | December 21, 2006 11:04 AM

Charles did you even comprehend the article?
Yes this theoretically open up cable choices but it also limits the local government from protecting us specifically, that cable company may pick & choose who they provide cable to in a local jurisdiction. So if I don't live in a 100 house gated community, will they want to bring the cable to my house?

Also, the article has said even with satellite competition, prices have gone up on cable subs. Not damning evidence becasue I believe satellite isn't an easy competion such as switching long distance phone companies but still interesting nevertheless.

Posted by: Victor | December 21, 2006 11:08 AM

How is the government REDUCING competition a good thing for consumers? That is exactly what would happen if the Democrats got their wish in the vote. Local governments have no business interfering with this service, not the least of which is because of the 1st amendment. It's the same reason homeowners' associations can't restrict dishes (beyond certain reasonable limits) in their communities.

The whole idea for localities to be able to grant 'franchises' in the first place is because it's inefficient for two companies to dig trenches through roads and install physical plant. Phone companies do not have these issues - they're already here!

As for Victor's comment, Satellite is NOT a direct competitor to cable - for people like me who need broadband service (Comcast, exurban Va), DirecTV doesn't do it. I guess I could toss my Cable TV and just use Comcast for bband I suppose, but my bill would be higher than I pay now. Or I could go with DirecWay, a hugely expensive, slow 'broadband' connection via satellite, and really only attractive for rural farms, etc.

Posted by: JD | December 21, 2006 11:19 AM

Victor put it very well. The choice is there for you to pick a cable provider but now your protection is less because your local government is now limited by what the FCC says. So there is a new choice to make:

Let the FCC come in a control local governments ruling on cable company's or let you locally elected officials handle the issue.

I am all for choice. I am not for federal interference in local matters.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 11:25 AM

JD,

How is the FCC even allowed to make such a ruling? They are a regulator of transmission bands, not a maker of transmission rules.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 11:29 AM

Aside from the fine print that is probably contained in this deal, the monopolistic cable companies need the competition.

In my area ever since Comcast bought AT&T Broadband the only thing that has changed are regular bill increases and now your run of the mill cable package is over $40 a month. Whereas the cost for my cable Internet connection (from Comcast) is only $22 a month, presumably because of the presence of several DSL providers.

As someone else mentioned, being able to side step the local goverment seems rather shady... However consider that in the face of all this your local goverment (at least in my area) can chose who they want to provide cable service and has thus far clearly not done what is best for the consumer.

I think satellite has not caught on yet because of the hassle (especially if your a renter) to get the dish and equipment installed, whereas every modern house in America has a phone connection installed which would make Cable TV from the phone company a very viable alternative.

-J

Posted by: J | December 21, 2006 11:31 AM

Sorry Sushi, I think you may be stuck in the 1940s or something... The FCC covers all comms, not just over-the-air or mananging spectrum.

Here's their charter:

The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.

Posted by: JD | December 21, 2006 11:32 AM

"but it also limits the local government from protecting us specifically, that cable company may pick & choose who they provide cable to in a local jurisdiction."

How is allowing a service provider to pick where a "luxury service" is to be provided protecting us? Heck, society recognizes that EVERYTHING has a cost-benefit tradeoff. Most communities do not provide public transportation (a critical basic infrastructure for many people) EVERYWHERE within their limits. You want bus service? Live and work where it's available! You want Fiber optic TV? Live where it's available!

A pure fiber optic to the curb system is very expensive, and only suitable for very high density subscriber areas (think high-rise). More commonly, phone lines (already in place) are used, and they have very discrete bandwidth/distance tradeoffs which limit how far from the local "wire office" TV can be sent. Let the new entrants get started. Technology will get better, the pool of customers they can reach profitably will grow, eventually the service will be ubiquitous.

Posted by: HelioPilot | December 21, 2006 11:43 AM

JD,

I understand that. But where is the mission statement that says the federal government can act in place of the local government?

I am all for choosing providers. The more providers the better the price and ultimately the better service.

Stuck in the 1940s? I wasn't even thought of back then.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 11:47 AM

There is no doubt in my mind that current cable giants, like Comcast, have a monopoly on regions, which enable them to charge whatever they want to charge. Satellite is still a niche market, and until that changes, there needs to be some relief. In California, the legislature passed a similar law allowing phone companies to apply for a State licence, instead of applying in 52 different counties. How can anyone argue with that logic? Monopoly should only exist on the board game.

As for those who are yelling up the Dem/Rep divide, their making a mountain out of a mole hill. The California legislature, Democratically dominated, passed, basically the same measure. So to make blanket statements that Democrats are against competition is rediculous.

Posted by: Robert | December 21, 2006 12:01 PM

Ha! Maybe I'm stuck back in the 40s then...

The Feds have overrule authority for any number of things, including interstate commerce. It seems reasonable that telecom providers fall into that category.

As for the local authority; normally, I'm in favor of it for monopoly services like schools, but I fear that local governments make competition decisions based on issues other than the well-being of their residents - expediency, fear of lawsuits, inertia (how many times did Cox get the rubberstamp renewal in Fairfax, even though they regularly pull a Ned Beatty-in-Deliverance to people who live there), and at least where I come from in NJ, bribes.

I think a blanket rule that allows Verizon et al to apply one time is the best way to get the competition out to the people, quickest. Make no mistake, competition trumps regulation for lower prices *every time*. Just look at telecom costs in general, including cell phones, if you don't believe me.

Posted by: JD | December 21, 2006 12:03 PM

Robert,

The California legislature passed the law. The local government. Not the federal government.

Understand? The locals were for it so they made it happen without federal interference. That is what I am for.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 12:06 PM

JD,

I lived in Fairfax for several years, so I feel your pain about only having one provider. That is where the local government made a rule that hurt the people's choice. It's an exception to the rule and nothing was ever done about it, even though a majority of the cable subscribing residents were screaming for options.

With that said, the FCC needs to stay out and the voters need to vote for change at the local level.

Where I live now there are two cable providers. Still my choice is limited, but it's getting better.....without FCC interference.

1940 Sushi

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 12:14 PM

@HelioPilot -- in my (not so humble) opinion -- I am not entirely convinced of your argument...there are places where most services would not be offered ever, if it were not required. I'm thinking specifically of where I grew up -- telephone service and electricity are in rural areas specifically because the utilities are required to provide the service there, not just in densely populated areas.

To say that people should live where the service is offered ignores the fact that most people cannot afford to live in affluent neighborhoods.

Broadband can surely be considered a luxury (after all, you don't die if you don't have it), but other industrialized nations are ahead of the US in providing fiber speeds to residential consumers. I think there's probably some payoff to making sure that all folks can get online quickly.

But, having said that, I like the ruling. I'm all for kicking Comcast to the curve if I can -- I hate monopolistic prices that don't have a market basis. I got rid of cable TV a year ago, and Comcast raised my Broadband rate. So, the minute I can switch to the Telecom-provided fiber service, I'm there.

Posted by: Bart | December 21, 2006 12:15 PM

This ruling allows ATT and Verizon to Cherry Pick the Best Customers off of Comcast's turf. Pushing the poor, working class and middle class off on Comcast, while ATT and Verizon get to service the Upper Class.

So, yes, a two tier system, with the Fed's Forcing local government to accept this imbalance. At some point it will force Comcast to drop the poor from it's network.

But, as long as the Republa-Crooks get paid then it's ok.

Posted by: Mike | December 21, 2006 12:21 PM

It's unfair to change the rules now after cable companies have spent years playing by those rules. The franchise system was designed to protect the interests of local communities. Instead of investing in that commitment, Verizon invested millions in high profile lobbying efforts to change the rules. This frees them to pick and choose the availability of their service and takes power away from the consumer.

Posted by: Will | December 21, 2006 12:29 PM


Someone always has to go and make it a party issue. Mike's comments about the Republa-Crooks goes to show that everything eventually comes back to party lines.
It's the Republa-Crooks vs The Demo-wimps, right Mike? What about the federal government vs big business vs the consumer. The consumer always looses that battle.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 12:39 PM

Isn't telecomm interstate commerce (as JD said)? Doesn't that give the FCC at least some legal basis, if not right, on which to decide these things?

Moreover, y'all are arguing about local jurisdiction why? I see a lot of complaints with very little rationale. And how exactly does the franchise system protect the interests of the consumers? It does a good job of creating local monopolies for the cable companies which contributes to the problems we've seen, but what are it's benefits exactly?

And to the guy complaining about the poor being cut off from service, I challenge you to substantiate that. That's an awfully bold statement with very little reasoning provided.

Posted by: Jon | December 21, 2006 12:48 PM

"Isn't telecomm interstate commerce...?"

So the Internet should be regulated?

All consumer prices should be regulated because transactions are done over telecom.

The answers to these questions is obviously no, but a line is drawn between local and federal and we need to stick to it.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 12:56 PM

Jon, don't be an idiot.
ATT is specifically fighting commitments from local government to service ALL customers in a town, city or even neighborhood.

ATT has absolutely No Intention of servicing people who won't buy platinum service. ATT gets the best customers, Comcast gets saddled with the worst, who's going out of business first, or drop a franchise first?

Sheesh. Get Real.

And since the FCC vote was along party lines, then, yes it's the Republa-Crooks
being the HO's of ATT.

Posted by: Mike | December 21, 2006 1:01 PM

And since when did the FCC have the right to regulate interstate commerce? The Commerce Department does that.

Tetecom is an interstate commerce, but then the argument goes to who has jurisdiction at the federal level. I'm not going there.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 1:01 PM

Mike,

How could AT&T even stay in business with that thought process?

FCC voted down party lines? Last I checked the FCC was all Republican. What line are you referring too?

The FCC will changes hands soon anyway.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 1:10 PM

This entire argument is absurd. The cable companies did not have to ask for anyones permission to sell telephones services over thier network. WHY SHOULD THE TELCOMS HAVE TO GET PERMISSION TO SELL VIDEO?

Posted by: Lenny B. | December 21, 2006 1:11 PM

Lenny B.,

Voice vs data. Do you know the difference?

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 1:22 PM

Absolutly! The Telcoms have been doing voice and data long before the cable companies.

Posted by: Lenny B. | December 21, 2006 1:24 PM

Data is not yet (key word: yet) regulating data. The cable companies used the argument that data is free from regulation because the band it is transmitted on is already regulated. The band is not a radio band, like a telephone. It's a data band.

Phone company's are still reeling from that decision.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 1:29 PM


Which plays to my point that the FCC needs to stay away from this.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 1:30 PM

The FCC and local governments are standing on that decision. It looks like you and I agree. This is not something that the FCC should not be involved in.

In my opinion the local governments should not be involved either. They see this as another cash cow and they will milk it to death. Did you ever notice the tax added to your telephone bill?

Posted by: Lenny B. | December 21, 2006 1:42 PM

Lenny B.,

I agree. The second the federal government gets involved with regulation, the taxes start adding up. Phone bill taxes, cable bill taxes. Yes, there are local taxes on those bills, but the federal government gets the biggest chunk.

I have a feeling that the FCC just made another revenue stream for the feds with this ruling.

The FCC should be involved with this to an extend, but not to regulate. Oversight would have been the best approach.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 1:55 PM

I feel cable companies are trying to exponentially raise rates. You can't even buy basic service without paying a lot of money. Glad there is competition coming. I thought the electric companies were going to also be competing also. We need three completely different forms of competition at least

Posted by: Tyrus | December 21, 2006 2:07 PM

Tyrus,

You have 3 now. Cable, satellite or nothing at all.

Kidding

Posted by: John | December 21, 2006 2:12 PM

Competition to lower rates? The likes of Verizon et al will offer a great introductory rate and soon thereafter raise their rates again and again - just like their phone service... The high cable rates provides them a big cushion for this maneuver.

Posted by: rivermeister | December 21, 2006 2:13 PM

About the comment from Radioactive Sushi:

"Data is not yet (key word: yet) regulating data. The cable companies used the argument that data is free from regulation because the band it is transmitted on is already regulated. The band is not a radio band, like a telephone. It's a data band."

All cable companies (not just some, but ALL) use satellite transmission to receive their signals and then they forward the signal via land-lines. That makes all signals handled by cable companies under the purview of the FCC, since they are using the public airwaves to get the signal to their land-lines.

Posted by: More | December 21, 2006 2:39 PM

There is the history that nobody seemed to capture. When cable companies got setup, the FCC wanted to provide equity among the companies. So it created zones of wealth and zones of poverty. Companies were given areas of both across the board. That way no cable company had only the richest customers, and why in some towns you may have two cable companies providing cable service. In my town both Comcast and Optimum service the area depending on what side of the street you live on.

The FCC thought that by mandating companies that way the poor wouldn't be excluded from services provided. Fast forward to 2006 and with merger after merger those smaller cable companies, zones are gone. So competition was never a thought in the creation of cable no matter how you look at it. Local government has always had a vested interest because they lease the use of their property (e.g. utility poles on the street) to the company. So cable companies tend to give incentives to the town (i.e. Comcast free cable and internet to schools) that creates a barrier for a competitor. Currently Satellite is the alternative to cable.

Now I agree telecoms are getting an unfair deal since phone service in most towns can be provided by more than one company, you have the choice of various providers (Verizon, IDT, Sprint, etc..) for that service including cable. But cable you have one choice based on your address. So why should the phone company not enjoy the same right to offer media that cable is given for voice? The cable company is allowed to provide voice without restriction. Why because like the comment on VoIP and data, the FCC views voice provided by cable as a data item, transmitted via the Internet.

So until the government can get a handle on the Internet, the greatest use of public money (public since the invention was a result of the Department of Defense contract), and determine what they can have regulated. Cable companies with their politicking will remain in control of your media options. Being surprised that the FCC, a political instrument, is being use to usurp control is humorous. People scream give me choice and it is US politics as usual in the way the FCC decides the choice.

Posted by: Minority Whip | December 21, 2006 2:44 PM

OK, I think everyone agrees that more competition = lower rates. Right? Does anyone care to make the contrary argument? I thought not.

So issues of 'fairness' aside wrt them going thru local franchise issues and Verizon not (and I see no reason to be all that fair to Comcast et al, they haven't exactly earned it), getting to the point where the competition exists can only help consumers....right?

So, the only issue is will the Bells cherry pick the 'good customers' by redlining? I thought Al Gore's USF tax was supposed to take care of that. Anyway, at the end of the day, companies will go where they can make money. Since virtually everyone has a phone, it's just a matter of time before FiOS gets rolled out to anyone who will pay. And pay less than Comcast (Yay!).

Posted by: JD | December 21, 2006 2:45 PM

>

:-)

Posted by: JD | December 21, 2006 2:46 PM

Mike said, "Jon don't be an idiot." I'm sorry for asking you to qualify your position. It still makes very little sense. There's the universal service fee to make sure that telcomms provide service to rural areas, so I could see how that group of people might be dumped from service.

But I still have no idea how adding competition is going to hurt the poor, unless you're assuming something you're not articulating. Obviously everyone wants the customers who buy the services with the highest margins. But why would this affect anybody else? Is Comcast just going to leave the area entirely? Why would they stop selling the lower-rung packages? You need to provide some more coherent rationale that they are going to dump their customers, even the poor ones.

As to Sushi, what does regulating the Internet have to do with anything? I would imagine that the federal government would have the legal authority to legislate regulations on the Internet, but I don't think anybody here advocated that. Just because they have a right to regulate something doesn't mean they will or should exercise it.

What we're challenging you on is why you care that the localities should regulate it. I just don't understand why you care so much that the feds are doing this, as opposed to local government. What's the loss here, other than local sovereignty, which doesn't really seem like a consumer issue.

Posted by: Jon | December 21, 2006 2:48 PM

More,

Satellite is not regulated so that point is null. Cable is not regulated for content because it is not on band regulated by the FCC (public band). Local broadcast IS in a band regulated by the FCC. That is why there is a separate package for basic cable and expanded cable. Regulated and unregulated.

Data on the other hand is out of that realm because it is regulated in a different way.

This is getting too technical now so I will end it there and say that cable companies DO NOT use public bands to transmit their service. That is why you need a box to descrambles it (A cable box) Did you not see CSPAN yesterday? CSPAN is unregulated because it is transmitted on a private band, that requires an FCC license to use.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 2:52 PM

I welcome the ruling, being a republican I believe the FCC control most of what you see on TV

Posted by: Ted McDonnald | December 21, 2006 2:56 PM

Jon's entire comment @12:48pm was "show me the evidence" all the while his entire statement had no substance what so ever.

Posted by: Victor | December 21, 2006 3:00 PM

Who gives the FCC that right to decide what I watch. God? If He does, He didn't mention anything about it in the Bible.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 3:02 PM

Jon,

Read the posts before about phone use over the internet to put my comment in context.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 3:07 PM

And Jon, all you have to do is go read about home rule to understand why I think localities should regulate this issue and not the FCC.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 21, 2006 3:13 PM

Sorry, Sushi, I understand that other people might have mentioned the internet, but I didn't, so I don't understand what it has to do with my post to which you were originally responding--considering I don't think that's the issue.

As an issue, home rule might be interesting, but why in this context? It doesn't illuminate the policy behind the decision to open up localities to competition in the cable television markets. Let me put it this way: the issue of home rule is (more or less) irrelevant to consumer concerns. It doesn't matter who passes a deregulation policy, the question is whether or not it will benefit consumers, lead to more efficient market outcomes, or whatever (neither of which I'm saying, btw).

Now perhaps you believe that home rule would lead to better regulatory outcomes, and I would be fine with that. But I'd like to hear why you believe that's the case. Otherwise I just don't see why the discussion on home rule matters in this debate.

Posted by: Jon | December 21, 2006 4:20 PM

So the party of small government does it again! With these guys in power Reagan was right: the government is the problem.
And of course the Dems are just as bad. Clinton told us that the Telecommunications Act of 1993 would drive down cable rates, and now we find that they've gone up 93%. Let's face it, Big Govt or Small Govt, Democrats or Republicans, they are all just hacks for the corporations. That's why half the country doesn't vote between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dumber.

Posted by: Joel Roache | December 21, 2006 5:54 PM


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Secret Societies: They Are Not Just at Yale - They Are Running a University Near You

Associated Content | December 21, 2006
Artevia Wilborn

The world over has heard of Skull and Bones of Yale University. This elite secret society holds within its membership at least four U.S. Presidents. George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry are both members of Skull and Bones. This made the 2004 presidential election the first known election where two secret society members ran against each other. However, names like the Order of the Bull's Blood, Mystical Seven Society, The Order of Gimghoul , Burning Spear, and Machine are less familiar. Make no mistake these too are powerful societies. The clear pronounceable difference between these organizations and Skull and Bones is that these secret societies were founded and continue to wield power at universities where ivy does not grow.
At the University of Virginia the number 7 mysteriously pops up on campus buildings and other campus fixtures and checks in the amount of 1,777 or 7,777 are sent to the university. For nearly 100 years candidates picked by the most secretive society have virtually always won the University of Alabama's student government elections. How is it that a group that claims only 13 years of existence on Florida State University's 156-year-old campus became the natural choice to sponsor FSU Homecoming? On the campus of Baylor University the school fountains turn pink, announcements declare Homecoming canceled, and figures are seen parading around campus adorning wigs and fake noses.

If the average college freshman is expecting to step on a campus where he or she leaves behind the stereotypical high school cliques then most will be given a false sense of freedom. Most college students are unknowingly under the yoke of the definite yet predominantly silent hold university secret societies possess on what is popularly called college life.

There are many aspects of college life. One could argue that there are so many diverse parts of campus life that it would be impossible for secret societies to control all of them. The mistake is thinking that these societies need to physically control all of these parts. In all fairness there are some aspects of college life these societies wouldn't want to touch with a ten-foot pole. But what societies like Spades aim to do is build an ever growing web of influence; and like a bunch of spiders they position themselves in key places on their web so that their slightest touch affects the entire college web. So what parts of the college web do these secret societies position themselves upon and how does this affect college life? The physical landscapes and traditions of the school, student government and student leadership, and social events are where these societies seem to assert their control.

Secret societies put university politics into play like a well-oiled machine. In fact, it is well documented that Machine, University of Alabama's secret society, has used all manner of illegal tricks and threats to both win university elections and discourage opponents from running against them. One year on their order groups of students boycotted a popular pizzeria to the point of running it out of business. Why? Well the son of the pizzeria owners ran against a Machine student government candidate. No one knows the exact membership, their leadership is especially secretive, but Machine's representatives inform potential election candidates what student positions Machine will allow them to pursue. Burning Spear is comprised of the most elite of the student senate and student government association, incidentally most currently belong to Insight Party, the FSU political party that has been sweeping university elections, under one name or another, for several years.

The reason these societies fight so earnestly to control the political makeup of their universities is simple, the pursuit of ever more power. What is most alarming is that many universities pay student government officers, thus compensating these secret society members for exerting their control in everyday student life. They control student organizations' budgets and place students on the student judicial board. They write legislation that affects the student body and hold representatives in every college or school on their university's campus. They allocate funds for student festivities and events and safeguard the interests of groups like fraternities and sororities, of which many secret society members also hold membership.

Just how these societies impact the physical landscapes and traditions of school are probably the easiest thing to observe about them. For instance, The Seven Society writes 7s on school property at the University of Virginia. Members of Burning Spear begin the beating of a large drum in the FSU's Student Union when the university plays a rival like UM or UF. The Noze has painted school bridges pink , dyed the water in school fountains pink, and made false announcements declaring Homecoming canceled. Michigamu, unlike any other group on campus, is given a free office space on campus.

Some may see these acts as mysterious or cool, foolish or petty vandalism, or simply harmless but they have been mistakenly viewed as part of these Universities' distinctions and traditions. These organizations are physically making a clear statement: This university and everything you think is yours belongs to us. They are given the power to take up space and "decorate" the university as they see fit without question, without revealing their motives or membership, and without campus reprisal and without being subjected to following standard university rules .

Homecoming, and Alumni Weekend, and concerts oh my. Oh these are just a few of the events these society members host. Oh how they like the limelight (so long as you don't focus too much attention on their membership in said societies) and being the life of the party. A university's time honored events and most awaited social spotlights are under the command of these organizations. After only 13 years of proclaimed existence Burning Spear unquestionably is given the honor of sponsoring FSU's homecoming. Florida Blue Key also sponsors colossal events such as University of Florida's Homecoming and Gator Growl. Students who secretly hold membership in these groups get to represent themselves as everyday students while they gain and build professional, social, and alumni connections. What is ironic is that the university funds the parties these societies sponsor under the guise of school spirit. It is however, the sprit of their own society and influence over these events that they are most interested in maintaining.

With the power of government, influence over tradition, and determination to plan the goings on at your local university know that elite secret societies participate in all these activities with only one goal - their ever advancing power. The aforementioned colleges and universities don't immediately endear visions of prestige that one thinks of when Harvard or Yale is mentioned. However, like the members of Skull and Bones these secret societies members on public university campuses go on to powerful positions in local, state, and federal government, they become successful business men, and continue the ever connecting web of power.

Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy, puts the best case of why these societies succeed. Phillips states, "People have wondered why these secret societies have been hotbeds of future success. Rather than competing with fraternities and student organizations, these 'secret societies' augment or leverage other organizations. What makes them unique and singularly successful is that they stress goal-oriented vision among a limited and distinguished group. Often they assist each other, secretly, in gaining prominent campus positions as practice for what they want to do in the real world. As opposed to larger organizations they maintain the strength of their ties post graduation."

Posted by: che | December 22, 2006 3:54 AM

Jon,

che made a gap in the conversation again, but I will explain what I mean by home rule.

We elect local officials to manage the local issues. This used to be how the cable companies were regulated. However that was taken away from us with this ruling. So our local officials have less power that they did the day before. Its going to get to the point that we are going to ask ourselves why we elect local officials if the federal government is just going to come in and take it away.

I understand the need for more choices, but that should be handled by the local government(like they did in CA).

This is where the home rule reference comes in. Let the local governments handle the local issues.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | December 22, 2006 6:59 AM

The answer is FREE MARKET.

The wireless model should be follow. Remove government red tape (local & federal) and you foster competition, which: reduces cost, increases service quality and fosters technology advancement.

Local cable franchise agreements are nothing more than needless red tape and kudos to the FCC! The congress needs to follow this example and pass national legislation on this issue.

It's quite interesting, that some of the voices for reform prior to 1996 and the Telcom Act are now the same forces promoting an archaic system that prevents free trade.

Posted by: TMC | December 22, 2006 3:56 PM

I have thought my Comcast bill was about $30 too high compared to my means for some time now. So, whenI heard about Verizon television and when Comcast would not let me sign up for their phone service to lower my bill, I called Verizon.

Sorry, they said. We don't do apartments and will not do apartments for a long time.

I am between companies.

Posted by: Gary Masters | January 2, 2007 10:45 AM

Judging by the recent picture of the Comcast repairman sleeping in his chair while he waited on the phone for the central office, I'm not sure it would make any great difference if he gets to my house quicker or not. It would just mean that he gets to sleep a little longer.

Posted by: truthman | January 2, 2007 5:53 PM

These rules will be challenged in federal court. The FCC does not have a great track record in defending the validity of their regulations. Even the conservative federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (which probably will hear any appeal from the trial court) has not been friendly to the FCC. Most likely the opponents will get an injunction stopping enforcement of the regulations pending a full decision on their validity. This could take years, giving Congress plenty of time to act and overturn the regulations by statute.

Posted by: Garak | January 3, 2007 1:20 PM

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