Blog Archive

Friday, October 24, 2008

Broadcast Brouhaha Breaks Out

For the last few weeks the EPB and the broadcast television stations have been in a high stakes game of chess on your behalf. This match is between the EPB Cable Television operation and the broadcast stations that make up about 16 channels of our basic service. Every three years our contracts which cover the permissions for us to carry the broadcast stations (the ones that are actual television stations like WBKO, WNKY, WAVE, WLKY, etc.) expire and must be renegotiated. Historically that has been a relatively simple process wherein the broadcasters ask for certain channel positions and other minor concessions in return for giving us permission to carry their signals. This year, just when we are all being rocked by the turmoil in our economy, we are seeing a new resolve from all of the broadcasters to also ask us to pay them large amounts of money for this permission! You can read more about this issue here.

While we have yet to get formal requests from all of the stations we presently carry, it appears that all but the local low-power station (channel 18 from Scottsville) and the KET/PBS non-profit stations, are going to ask us to pay them large amounts if we wish to continue carrying their programming on our cable system. This is truly bizarre and, considering the strife in our economy, exceedingly poor timing for them to start showing this level of greed. While anyone can still put up an antenna and pick up these broadcasts for free, if we put up that antenna and facilitate the delivery of the signal though our cable system, they feel we should pay about $44,000 per year, per station! Since we presently have nine of those stations, we are talking about a new expense of over $390,000 per year. Obviously, we simply cannot absorb that cost. Something will have to give.

To make matters worse, the two broadcast stations in Bowling Green have used their new digital transmission capability to expand from two broadcast affiliations to five. WNKY is an NBC and a CBS affiliate. WBKO is an ABC, Fox, and CW affiliate. That is important because the networks have been busy working with the affiliates to keep us from being able to shop for the best deal we can find from a broadcast affiliate for each station. It is really too complicated to fully explain here, but the Bowling Green stations have also been granted special rights to either force us to pay their price or they can keep us from getting programming from Louisville or Nashville to replace their programming through “network non-duplication” rights. In other words, if we don’t like their price and we want to drop their programming in response, they can prevent us from importing another signal from NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and CW, we have to get it from the Bowling Green broadcasters, period. In effect, even though our economy is collapsing, largely due to the fact that several large banking institutions have become so big and powerful that they are de facto unregulated monopolies, our lawmakers are allowing these broadcast stations to also establish unregulated monopolies! We appear to be in a position wherein we are forced to pay the fees they are requesting unless we want to offer a cable service with no, or very limited, feeds from any of the major broadcast networks. We all know that is just not acceptable to our customers.

Further, even if we cave in and pay WBKO and WNKY their “ransom”, we will still face the wrath of our customers if we raise rates to pay off WBKO and WNKY as well as the fees demanded by the Nashville and Louisville broadcast stations. On the other hand, we face unhappy customers if they lose all of the Nashville and Louisville stations. Thus we are facing a no-win scenario, all because the broadcasters and the legislators and regulators have agreed to put us in this situation. Keep watching here for updates as this “discussion” rages on. We would love to hear your feedback on this matter, just sign in and leave your comments here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Watching the Meltdown from Glasgow

One thing none of the talking heads on television is talking about during this economic meltdown is the matter of how this stock market crash is going to affect us here in Glasgow. As the chief purveyor of the television signals that carry these talking heads, we thought we should correct this oversight. So, here goes.

First, before you read another word, you should know that the writer is not an economics expert. Rather, the author is simply a local person with some opinions on the subject and access to the internet such that my opinions can easily be plastered across this page. If you are reading this expecting more than that, please look elsewhere.

However, no one can dispute that this present crisis is rooted in the bursting of a very large bubble of inflated housing prices. But since housing prices have never been terribly inflated here locally, Glasgow really didn’t participate in that part of the crisis. The bursting of the bubble lead to widespread losses in many large financial institutions, but Glasgow does not house any of those so, once again, not a big deal here. It is true that many of us helped inflate that bubble by financing our own homes with “secondary market” mortgages. We did that for the reason that so many of us do so many things . . . they were cheaper. But even though many locals have mortgages, my family included, that may indeed be lost somewhere in this financial morass, so long as we keep making our payments there should not be a big impact on Glasgow.

Of course many local folks own stock through mutual funds, 401K’s, and other investment and retirement plans, and the value of those investments is presently in free-fall. It is certain that some local retirees are living off of the income generated by those investments and they will certainly see their incomes decrease. Other locals that have investment accounts targeted at future retirement may be looking at working longer than they had anticipated, but that should not force any locals to look for a tall building to jump off of. Those of us in that age bracket could not make it to the top of one anyway. Local investment advisors are not winning any popularity contests of late, but, their income should be quite secure because most of them get paid when we buy or sell stock, it is our problem if we lost money on the transaction generally, not theirs.

There could be dramatic impacts on Glasgow if this “crisis of confidence” results in the collapse of the automotive industry and a general resistance to folks shopping and spending. Many locals work in factories and industries and dealerships that depend upon the sale of trucks and cars and everyone with a job depends on someone being willing to purchase the products that person’s business sells. If there is anything that we really should be worried about right here in Glasgow that might be it. There is no quick fix to that, but, long term, we should be electing folks that recognize our long-term need to promote localism and growing our economy from within instead of putting all of our hope in the attraction of another outside industry. Generally however, that is a national issue that we must rely on strong national leadership to solve. This is why we should be very afraid and ready to demand more.

WARNING - POLITICAL OPINIONS COMING. For many years now we have elected leaders who employed the philosophy that government’s job is to help businesses pursue profits, and that business, in turn, should (and would) distribute that wealth among the rest of us. In the 1980's President Reagan espoused this philosophy when he said, in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” That truism continued to echo through the Newt Gingrich revolution of the mid-90's and it can even be witnessed today from presidential debates all the way to the uber popular Glasgow Forum on Topix.com. The only problem with the philosophy is that Wall Street is now proving what we all should have learned in American History class, that Reagan had it dead wrong. In fact, the demonization of government is now having results that none of the proponents, from Reagan to Gingrich and their descendants, ever intended. It turns out that a town without a Sheriff is not a pleasant place to live. What a pity we did not learn that from the warnings issued by Hamilton in the Federalist Papers or from the experience of our parents who lived through the Great Depression! While we certainly cannot fix any of that from our position here in Glasgow, we, along with the residents of ten thousand other cities like Glasgow across the United States can certainly fix it, and we must.

Our decades-long love affair with dismantling our federal government is at the very core of the problems facing our economy today. We crashed our ship upon the rocks while we listened to the siren song of “returning power to the people,” but it turns out that dismantling regulatory agencies by slashing their budgets and appointing clueless leadership, did not return power to us at all, instead, it turned power over to the great rival of national government, the large corporations and the business community. Now we can see that getting government off the back of business simply means putting business on the back of government, and, in turn, on my back and your back right here in Glasgow.

This is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, it is about greed from both sides of the political aisle, the sort of greed that can be carried out while we regular citizens are busy trying to make a living and raise our children. What we need today are leaders like the Roosevelts, both the Republican, Theodore, and the Democrat, Franklin. Both of them saw the national government, not as a menace to be denounced and feared, but as an instrument of greater democracy and as a vital means of helping people to help themselves. Both of them were fought, every step along the way, by short-sighted men of wealth and privilege. Still, it is said that Franklin Roosevelt rescued capitalism from the capitalists. We need leaders like the Roosevelts again, both nationally and locally.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Something Simple

If you are like me, you wish that we did not have so many news channels on our cable lineup of late. The news has been so complex and scary that no one really wants to see it. So, perhaps it is time for a very simple and useful post from us that might take your mind off of some of the depressing economic news. So, here goes.

One of the blogs worth reading out there on the world wide web (other than this one) is David Pogue's light hearted, informative, and funny information on computers and other digital gadgets. Recently he did a post on 'The Basics' of computer use and it was shocking how many simple things about using computers and Windows that he knew, while most folks do not. All of us at the EPB use computers every day. In turn, we chat with customers thousands of times a month and most of those conversations include some amount of transferring information about tips and shortcuts that most people are not aware of. Even still, a lot of the things on David's list were new to us!

Before I can even link you to the wonderful list of information submitted by David Pogue, we need to talk for just a minute about the first tip...just what is a 'link?" A link is a graphic or even a word that appears in a different color, like this, in a blog or a web page. When you see one of these words in a different color, you can use your mouse to move the cursor over the link and then press the left mouse key. Instantly, after "clicking on the link" you are transported to another web site with new or additional information. Therefor, please click on this link to be transported to a wonderful list of useful shortcuts that will make your computer usage much more efficient and fun. Go ahead, click it!
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 1 2008, A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

While our congressional representatives debate in Washington, D.C. about a very controversial bill aimed at saving our economic system from a total meltdown, a very similar crisis, albeit on a much smaller scale, is looming right here in Glasgow. That statement is not made to sound overly dark, but October 1 is the day that the largest increase in the cost of TVA electric power in many decades takes effect. So, in an odd sort of fashion, the pursuit of light is setting us up for economic darkness.

Nationally the proliferation of variable rate mortgages is said to be the chief cause of our economic distress. As the interest rate on those mortgages spiraled upward, many have not been able to make the larger payments. The result has been that thousands of families have seen their homes repossessed and that has resulted in the general reduction in value of all of our homes. Thus, banks who secured loans based upon the inflated values of the real estate, have become insolvent because they cannot sell the repossessed homes at anywhere near what they thought they would be worth. But you did not come here for my explanation of the national economic crisis.

The point is that the situation here in Glasgow is eerily similar to our national situation. Instead of variable rate mortgages, all of us are facing variable rate energy bills. In particular, your electric power bill from the EPB, depending on how much electricity you use and where you use it, just went up around twenty percent. For many in Glasgow that increase will be quite painful. For many more, the increase will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” relative to their personal finances. More folks than ever will face termination of their electric service due to their inability to pay their bill and that will send ripples throughout our local economy. The EPB certainly does not look forward to increasing the number of electric service terminations, but we don't really have any other tools to use since any amount of electricity not paid for by one customer is ultimately paid for by the rest of the customers. So far, the rest of the customers have been unwilling to subsidize those who cannot pay. Meanwhile, even folks who can tighten their belt enough to deal with this increase will also contribute to the destabilization of Glasgow’s economy simply because this rate increase, should it stay in place for a year, will extract an additional $4 million from our local economy! That means every church, charity, and non-profit agency that depends on contributions from locals to survive will feel the pressure. Four million dollars is so much, when pulled from a community the size of Glasgow in one year, that none of us will be able to avoid feeling the impact.

The national economic crisis generally results from the unmitigated greed of several folks with Wall Street work addresses. Our local energy-derived economic crisis comes from many years of TVA rates which encouraged us all to use energy as if it were a limitless resource. As a result, we have all become addicted to cheap and abundant energy but now the supply is suddenly expensive and very finite. I am not at all sure which of those sins is the more damaging. Nationally, our congress will likely vote to rescue the Wall Street sinners by borrowing more money from China, Germany, and Russia. Locally, your rescue might come from a number of actions, but being saved by Congress is not on the list possibilities. First, you could redouble your efforts to use less electric power (you know how to do this, just turn thermostats down and appliances off). Next, you could offer up effective prayers for rain (TVA can make really low-cost power with their hydroelectric dams, but those need to be attached to reservoirs full of water, and for the last couple of years they have been at record lows due to persistent drought.). Finally, you might get ready to embrace a new electric rate environment wherein you will save money by moving your electric power consumption to off-peak times (this is the savior we have been hoping for over the last several years but TVA is glacially slow at delivering to us).

Of course, no discussion about our economy can take place without also mentioning that localism, making every possible effort to buy your needs from locally owned businesses, is also a great way to blunt the impact of this economic crisis. TVA has just opened up a huge new hole through which lots of money will drain away from our local economy. Meanwhile, you have the power to start sealing that hole by trapping more money in our local economy. Whatever you buy, think about how you can buy it from a local merchant first. It might be a long process of encouraging more local folks to offer the goods and services that we all need, but even the journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step!

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