The original home of the blog known as 802 Online

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Cable controversy ain't just about cable

It's not every day the MA- and CT-based chapter of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association takes out a full page ad in the Burlington Free Press. I called the Freep to find out how much the industry lobbying group spent on the ad, but they've asked me to submit a request for ad rates in writing, and wait for them to mail me a kit. So I can't tell you how much they spent. But I can tell you that the ad, on page 3A, wasn't cheap.

Why has this out-of-state group taken an interest in Vermont? The NECTA represents cable companies like Adelphia. They're opposed to Burlington Telecom's plan to offer residents access to municipally owned cable service. The ad trumpets the Public Service Board's public hearing scheduled for 7 tonight at Contois Auditorium.

That's great, right, letting people know that this very important meeting is happening tonight? Well, kinda. It's true, people haven't been paying nearly enough attention to these telecommunications issues. The way we get and send information is changing, and Burlington's planned municipal network would certainly benefit from more citizen input and oversight.

But NECTA's ad is biased and misleading.

First clue? Fearmongering language: "The City of Burlington has already committed to financing and has this phase of the project on a fast track." (italics mine) And in red, in larger type, they've written, "THIS MAY BE YOUR ONLY CHANCE TO ASK QUESTIONS OR HAVE YOUR VOICES HEARD."

Here's another quote: "Government-run cable television businesses tend to fail or leave taxpayers responsible for paying the bill." A footnote attached to this quote references a report, not on cable television, but on municipally owned broadband networks. The Burlington Telecom Project will offer both, plus phone coverage.

The report's from a think tank called the Heartland Institute. Not surprisingly, their conclusion is a controversial one. In a March 8 story from Wifi Net News, called Sock Puppet Talks, Unravels Glenn Fleishman takes issue with the Heartland Report. He calls industry efforts to block municipal networks tools of "retrenchment, refranchising, and renegotiation by the incumbent carriers." A story here also disputes it.

NECTA says, "Burlington taxpayers would be better off using the City's limited financial resources to invest in education, housing, public safety, or other essential city services." Burlington citizens should be asking, "says who?" And aren't information services, in the digital age, absolutely essential?
Comments:
Howdy. The report itself that the NECTA folks are referencing using assertions and third-hand sources. If you track the third-hand back to the second-hand, you find a March 2004 report from the Beacon Hill Institute, which is at Suffolk University, but doesn't disclose its funding.

If you then read the Beacon Hill report, you find that it is all second-hand information: no primary research. They didn't even talk to the broadband and cable networks in question.

Finally, the networks they cite -- they're wrong about. They aren't the failures they make them out to be: they used selective details and misinformation.
 
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