Through the Wire


By. Contributors: Ted Hearn, Linda Haugsted.

C-SPAN: Kerry Didn’t Try to Suppress Tape

In its Nov. 15 issue on the inside story of the 2004 presidential campaign, Newsweek reported the following: In summer 2003, the Kerry campaign approached C-SPAN in an effort to keep a lid on the video of John Kerry’s 1971 testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where the alienated young Vietnam War veteran vented about war crimes and atrocities in the southeast Asia war zone.

The Kerry camp was concerned the footage could be used in attack ads by the senator’s detractors. Apparently, the issue went away. “They were told not to worry: the rules prohibited the use of the tapes for political advertising,” Newsweek reported.

One problem: C-SPAN said the story is untrue.

“There was no push made here at C-SPAN from the Kerry campaign,” C-SPAN spokesman Peter Kiley said. “There was no request. We would not have honored it.”

C-SPAN aired Kerry’s testimony twice in 2004, once in March and again in August, as part of its “Road to the White House” series, Kiley said.

He did back up Newsweek on one point: The public-affairs network does not permit use of its footage by third parties and has threatened to sue violators. “We have a longstanding policy against use of our video for advertising,” Kiley said.

RCN’s Broke? OK, See If Comcast Will Pay Up

Chicago’s very-active access corporation has been in great distress ever since the now-bankrupt RCN Corp. defaulted on an estimated $1.25 million in support payments. So, the corporation, known as CAN-TV, is backing a civic solution to its problem: make Comcast Corp. pick up part of the slack.

A proposal to add a $2-per-year amusement tax on the MSO’s customers is before Chicago’s Board of Aldermen. Needless to say, the proposal isn’t playing too well in Philadelphia: Comcast already contributes 58% of CAN-TV’s revenues, according to the access corporation.

The aldermen delayed a vote on the tax on Nov. 3 to give Comcast officials 30 days to submit a different option for CAN-TV funding. If the tax is approved it would go into effect next January.

Powell Blasts NAB — Behind Closed Doors

At a recent Bear Stearns conference in New York City that was closed to reporters, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell did some venting about the collapse of his plan to rewrite media-ownership rules.

His target: the National Association of Broadcasters, particularly independent affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

According to sources, one broadcaster rose to complain that he was unable to afford the digital transition and needed to merge with another local station — except that the ownership rule making such a deal possible had been tossed out in court along with a host of other Powell-endorsed liberalizations. That question was the one that set Powell off.

First, he pointed out that the NAB had been its own worst enemy in the fight, because the group took a contradictory stand: It advocated a tight rein on the networks, with a 35% ownership cap, while supporting greater media concentration in local markets, such as lifting the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban; and allowing any two, same-market TV stations with weak Nielsen ratings to merge.

“He basically said you can’t have it both ways and he said that all the bad s--t that’s coming down on broadcasting — the localism [inquiry at the FCC] and even the indecency stuff — all goes back to that campaign that NAB led,” one source said. “He said, 'You got the ball rolling that big media is bad, and you’ve got to live with the consequences.’ ”

Second, Powell indicated support for cable’s approach to lobbying, which is to advocate deregulation for itself without asking for regulation of others.

Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts basically laid that approach out a few weeks ago in a speech to phone executives in Las Vegas.

“[Powell] unfavorably compared the TV broadcasters to Brian Roberts, who had just gone and made a speech at [the United States Telecom Association]. He held that up as a model of what to do and he held up as a model of what not to do the NAB’s campaign on the 35% [cap],” the source said.

Bear Stearns analyst Victor Miller, who one source said voiced support for Powell’s assesment, declined an interview on the subject. Powell spokesman David Fiske confirmed the chairman’s participation but would not discuss comments made at a private meeting.

Fiber-Spotting Squad Adds New Member

The phone companies, understandably, aren’t saying much about where they’re building out fiber-to-the-premises facilities for video and high-speed Internet. That’s where we come in, at least in one Verizon market.

In May we reported that telecom analyst Gary Arlen spotted fiber facilities being installed in his Bethesda, Md., neighborhood — five months before Verizon Communications Inc. ’fessed up to adding Montgomery County, Md., to its fiber rollout plans.

Now we drill in further, thanks to another telecom analyst in Bethesda, Richard Levine of LECG LLC. He’s spotted above-ground fiber construction, and tell-tale hub boxes drilled into poles, in areas served by the Wildwood and Woodacres COs in Bethesda, as well as the Wheaton central office.

“Last Sunday, there were trucks out in one sector of the area served by my central office,” he said — probably an expensive proposition, given union contracts. “It’s a pretty aggressive rollout, in terms of moving quickly through suburbs.”

He also said there could be other local locations, including the Bradley central office. “I basically look where I’ve traveled, I haven’t traveled just to look.”

A former Justice Department staffer who helped draft the decree that broke up the Bell System, Levine said the construction is “just noticeable because the big thing you see is basically these hub boxes which are on poles.” From the hub, the distribution fiber is overlashed on copper to the home.

Seen telltale signs of a telco fiber rollout in your neighborhood? Tell us and we’ll spread the word.