Thursday, January 29, 2015

CC102: Cord Cutting Motivations, Pros And Cons

Why do folks cut the cord? Is it because pay TV companies are second only to Congress as the most despised organization on earth? Or could it be the money?

It could be the former but let's spend a moment looking at the money. A report released in May 2014 by the FCC provides quite a bit of insight into the pay TV business, cable in particular. They examined the costs of three services levels, Basic, Extended and Next Most Popular over 18 years from 1995 to 2013. Over that period average cable bills rose by 107% compared to the CPI which increased by a smidgen over half that at 54%. If you look at the Extended package those prices rose by 188% over that period.

You would think we're discussing college costs and not how much we pay to see stuffed purple dinosaurs and skinny Dunwoody refugees.

It is perhaps worth noting that the number of channels available in each package has increased such that Extended packages now sport an average of 160 channels--of crap you probably do not want to watch. Which brings us the topic of what we watch vs what we pay.

ESPN is by far the most expensive channel in terms of cost to the service provider which is passed along to you, the sofa spud. It currently averages around $5.54 per subscriber. Compare that with Disney at around $1.15 per sub. Not really that surprising when you check out the etymology of "fan" and see that it is closely associated with "fanatic." And you might think that ESPN has more average total viewers than Disney. That would be wrong. ESPN garners 2.2 million whilst Disney gets 2.4 million. On average. Because of tiered services (fancy name for the packages) if you want to watch Disney you will also pay for ESPN even if you hate sports. It may come as no surprise that Disney owns ESPN.

So the factors favoring firing the cable company seem to center around money and when you consider the average cable bill is now around $78/month (almost $1000/yr) that pays for a few trips to the sports bar. You might also benefit from simply watching less TV. Perhaps your life would improve if you went out back and actually planted a tomato instead of watching someone else do it on the boob tube. You might also find that alternative media outlets deliver programming that is more to your liking and when delivered on your schedule may offer greater enjoyment while consuming less of the rest of your life.


But there are folks who would be absolutely miserable should they lose their favorite programming. Sports nuts top that list, though ESPN has a streaming service in beta with Sling and at a proposed monthly price of $20/month might be a win-win-win. But if you're really wrapped around AMC, with TV's top-rated drama, you might not have many options. Same for FoodTV, History Channel and HGTV. Similar programming is available from non-cable sources, some say it's better, some say different, but it certainly is not the same.

So if there is content you really, really must watch and you cannot wait for it to appear on DVD or streaming services cable is just the thing for you. Not yet anyway.

At the end of the day only you can determine if what you're paying for cable is worth what you're getting. One way to bring that into clearer focus is to keep a diary of what  you and others in your household watch. You already know what you're paying and with this you'll also know what you're getting.

Monday, January 26, 2015

CC101 : An Introduction To Cord Cutting

You watch TV, right? So you've seen the MegaMillions commercial where the Yuppy comes into the kitchen to inform the Yuppette that he won the jackpot. Of only fifteen million dollars. The Yuppette, more in need of a mental massage that her precious mani-pedi ends her wailing by remarking "we'll have to drop the cable."

That was meant to be funny, but if you've looked at your cable bill lately, or worse yet if you've been tracking it over the last few years then you are probably NOT smiling. And you are not alone. Just like TV landlines before them increasingly folks are giving up on TV delivered down some fat black tube and getting their entertainment jollies elsewhere.

And our label-conscious society has a name for them. They're called "Cable Cutters" and you just might want to join their ranks. Most folks associate Cable-Cutting with Millennials but in most cases this demographics cannot cut the cable because they never had a cable in the first place but they point to a future where you watch what you want, when and where you want to watch it. They demand it and the rest of us benefit. If we choose to.

The following little clip will give you an idea of how this new media generation consumes content, entertains themselves and just what they think of pay-TV monopolies.

So we will take advantage of the City Manager Honeymoon Period to lay off our usual bitching and moaning instead explore the ins and outs, the ups and downs of putting as much distance as possible between your wallet and pay-TV providers. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Franchise Fees : What Are They Good For?

Mayor Kasim Reed seems to have bladder control issues as he just cannot seem to avoid pissin' contests with damn near everyone he comes in contact with. The latest is AT&T and is over the costs incurred by AT&T to relocated equipment and infrastructure so that Kasim's toy train could be set out in time for Christmas. Didn't quite make Christmas unless you're Eastern Orthodox but that was the plan. So AT&T finds themselves in a $5.8 million hole and they'd like the city to cover the costs. Now given the realities of big business, AT&T isn't on the hook as much as their customers since AT&T consistently turns a profit. It should come as no surprise that the mayor who wants to steal millions from school children for his ring-around-the-rosies playground isn't going to pay up for collateral damage caused by his train set. That's where franchise fees come into play.

Now there are a few ways to look at franchise fees. One is they are just another tax, but with a label making them acceptable to Republicans who go into anaphylactic shock whenever they hear, let alone speak, the word "tax." Reed, being a Democrat, has no problem with the word but sees it pretty much like he sees everything else: any money he can get his hands on is his money. Fee, tax, who cares? It's just revenue.

Another view, one that came up in the Georgia Senate decades ago is that franchise fees are rent paid by utilities for access to public rights of way. Some considered this to cover any costs the franchising government might incur should the utility cause secondary damages to the rights of way when maintaining or upgrading their equipment or infrastructure. But since none of the franchising governments set aside any of the franchise fee revenue for that purpose one can only conclude that they don't see it that way.

A third view (though not the legal argument being used by AT&T) speaks to a more collaborative arrangement between the franchising government and the utility. This  PoV is based on the previous "fees to cover incurred costs" and expands it to include costs incurred by the utility should the franchising organization make changes in the rights of way that impact the utility. One could argue this is the case with AT&T and the train set.

Where it gets personal is when you view these large utilities, especially those with near or full monopolies, as a pass-thru billing service for the franchising government. In other words, we're paying these fees no matter how you view them and some are asking what we get for them. If the mayor wins (and his position is likely to be supported by every other mayor in Georgia) we, the taxpayers and ratepayers, will pay twice: first with franchise fees which get us nothing and then with higher rates necessary for AT&T to cover the costs caused by the city.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Allowed To Fail

There is an interesting bit of folklore floating around the homeschool crowd in Georgia. As the story goes, when Gold-Domers were crafting their rules around homeschooling it was initially proposed that each homeschool student would have to take a nationally recognized standardized test, the scores must be reported to the school district and if the student did not measure up on those tests then that student must be returned to public schools. Then something magical happened. Someone asked a simple question: "if a homeschool student must go back to public schools if they fail this standardized test, then what do we do with the public school students who fail the same test, send them to private schools?"

We've been struggling with the second part of that question ever since.

The first answer was charter schools which were sold on a model of thrive or close. The idea was that charters would have greater flexibility to experiment with successful practices identified in the charter experience incorporated into traditional public schools. They also came with a commitment to succeed--an educational SLA--and were to lose their charter (closing the school) should they not meet these academic commitments. The problem with this was the same as always--parents. Parents have an amazing ability to delude themselves into believing THEIR child attends the best school on the planet--even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary and therefore once their child is in a charter school that school becomes sacred.

So charters are having mixed results. At best.

Now Governor Deal is proposing an "Opportunity School District", a statewide district to take over failing schools in Georgia a plan modeled after a successful Louisiana program. By nationally normed standards that would be every school in Georgia, but this educational maxim will surely be applied: when all else fails, lower your standards. By applying that rule only the lowest of the low will be taken over by this State District. At least at first. Of course this does not sit well with existing district boards, supers, and administrations, mostly due to the loss of money and to some degree the erosion of power. Mostly the money. So they're pushing back and their mantra is the well-worn "local control" meme.

That will prove problematic, because "local control" is a myth particularly when discussing public schools. One of the key qualities of public schools is that the parents of students do not pay anywhere near the total cost of educating their children. Others do. A significant portion of the cost is born by business via property taxes paid on commercial real estate. But even that is not enough. Some funding comes from the state and it comes with conditions. The state also sets certain parameters like minimum school size which is enforced by funding. Then there is the Federal school lunch program viewed as low hanging fruit by schools far and wide as the program operates without any audits of any source. Just fill out some paperwork and watch dollars roll in. And if you think our wonderful, diligent, over-worked educators would not stoop to such a fraud then you've not been paying attention to what is going on in APS and DeKalb schools of late. Then there are revolutionary, funded programs like Race To The Top... Regardless, none of these funds come without strings attached. And then there is SACS which seems to exist for the purpose of extracting tax payer dollars and protecting district Supers from any uncomfortable scrutiny by the school board. You know, the folks we elect as the sole representatives of our "local control."

And now we have an ongoing effort to change the State Constitution to allow cities (like Dunwoody) to start their own school system, extracting themselves from the current district. And again with the local control. It will be as mythical as a unicorn, but believe it they will because it isn't so much about local control as it is about the money and keeping that money local. We will also find, in very short order, that a Dunwoody City School System would sell out whatever local control there might be in order to obtain the same funding from the State and the Feds that the DeKalb system gets with all the conditions and requirements thereunto appertaining. And an unaccredited school system will not please the citizenry and we'll be dealing with the SACS issue as well.

It turns out that the real problem with local control is that it comes bundled with local responsibility, which almost no one wants. In fact, should parents want truly local control over their children's education and be willing to shoulder the associated responsibility there is a very clear and simple answer: homeschool.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Sands Of Iwo Jima

It's pretty much neck and neck in the race for "most popular analogy used in business" but it is either sports or war and Stan Jester did not even get to the swearing-in ceremony without a preemptive strike. We're in for a bumpy ride.

The reaction in the blogosphere has been, well, baffling.

The story goes like this. Stan da Man, knowing that Demon DeKalb was going to insist on a background check (which does require the checkee's permission or a warrant) and fingerprints decided that first, he was not going to accept that the District could treat him as an employee and second decided to preemptively pay for the Dunwoody Police Department to perform a background check and have the DeKalb PD take prints. Then the media got involved and the nuts were off the buggy.

Whilst SdM claimed all along and did in fact post a copy of the Dunwoody PD null findings on his bloggy thingy and since there was no apartment fire that day Channel 2 went kinda open loop with the story with dramatic headlines along the lines of "newly elected school board member refuses background check" with all this resulting in much back and forth from some local blogomenters. At least no one contested the basic facts. Mostly.

One thread of commentary dwelt excessively on the timing of who knew what when and when did whomever make whatever public. There were conspiracy theorists dredging up the leak of compensation negotiations with a white candidate resulting in her withdrawal thereby clearing the decks for a black candidate who produced less than stellar results. These theorists saw a pattern which they suggest is indicative of a culture of corruption. Perhaps. But if you stare long enough you can see the image of the Einstein in a burnt piece of toast.

While the alleged leak from the Administration may have lit the fire under the fourth estate but given that SdM's plan all along had been full disclosure (you know, that trendy transparency thingy that politicians are wetting themselves over) it is difficult to see what the problem here really is. Thunder Theft?

Then it gets interesting. A little bit anyway. At least it was more or less on point. Many blogomenters take it as an article of faith that District background checks are done completely in-house. Then they point to a fairly recent Fuster Cluck where, after passing the in-house check, some students Googled their teacher and found Bad Chi from Florida that certainly would have prevented a hire in the first place. Ooops.

While their burning desire was bashing DCSD they dredged up a couple inconvenient points. First, they revisited the truth that "absence of proof is not proof of absence" and that the best any background check can ever provide for assurance is "we could not find anything." But to their point what could be found should be found which brings us to the second point.

The cited case of Background Check Failure missed an alleged offense that occurred outside the State of Georgia. But the background check run by the Dunwoody PD was restricted to Georgia resulting in "NO GEORGIA CRIMINAL HISTORY IS AVAILABLE FOR THIS REQUEST" which is more than fine for those of us who have never lived nor travelled beyond the borders of the Peach State. Not a malady afflicting many in daVille. Not SdM either.

This provoked a pondering. Did DCSD respond to the Epic Fail on the previous background check by extending the check to all known states of residence? Would this be problematic? Hmmmm.... There is only one way to know for sure. You have to ask the ultimate authority. Google.  That's right, google '"Stanley Jester" texas mugshot' using image search.

Veerrryyyy interesting...let us show you the some of the pictures Google associates with a Stan Search.

Close but no cigar.

He wishes.


Simply unavoidable.

REAL background check required.


And there you go, we're back where we started, the war analogy. Some say Stan was just standin' up to da man. Others wonder if this is really the beach he wants to die on and how many brothers in arms he will bloody the beach with. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cyber Chill

It's cold and getting colder out there in Cyberville. A little over a year ago things were much hotter. We had lots of local pundits punditting and certainly some of that activity was driven by elections. Elections over and the blogosphere goes quiet. To be sure those were the days of hot-headed politics. On the one side we had the red-shirtin' Save Dunwoody folks and lined up against them was an informal cabal of establishment bloggers. Not satisfied with that, opposition to the red-shirt opposition to the status quo coalesced into A Better Dunwoody. Just the thing to save us all from Save Dunwoody.

And now? Chirps.

Save Dunwoody didn't get their clean sweep and while there has been some activity around the most recent elections it is nothing compared to their broom wielding days. Without that unnecessary combatant A Better Dunwoody seems to have decided Dunwoody is as good as it will ever be offering nary a peep for well over a year.

Likewise the independents have either mellowed or zeroed though the hero of zero has irons in a much hotter fire than we can strike up in daVille. That silence is understandable and probably rests on advice from folks renowned for their advicing skills. On the upside a pervasive cloud of sanity overwhelmed most local bloggers as they either disabled comments or put them under moderation. Turns out bilous commenters did little but distract and offend but at the same time ignored recommendations to get their own blog. Thankfully shutting them out came at little cost and zero loss.

So what is the bottom line? Turns out things really are better than they were a year ago. Fer real and fer virtual. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Welcome Aboard

This is a shout-out to Eric Linton, Dunwoody's first properly selected City Manager.

Welcome aboard. You bring with you the gift of much hope.

As a graduate of Georgia Tech we know you have a track record of hard work and success in an environment where you were surrounded by people asking, and answering two questions: what problem are you trying to solve? and what assumptions are you making? Your arrival heralds a new phase in the maturation of Dunwoody.

You also grew up in the area giving you the advantage of familiarity and a deep understanding of the sense of place in the northern burbs. You are also probably familiar with the transformations occurring over the recent decades.

Your experience, your education and your background all bode well.

We offer you a city just exiting infancy. As you are probably aware the process of transforming a  bedroom 'burb into a legal entity was fast-tracked and we hired in leisure paying quite a price for haste over the few years of our existence. As one would expect when frat boys and sorority girls graduate from a home owners association with only a passing familiarity with Roberts' Rules of Order into government positions governed by Rule of Law we have had our first ethics kerfuffle. But we make lemonade round these parts. We benefited from the opportunity to upgrade the City Attorney position as the individual in that position was in the kill radius of the ethics explosion.

Some say your predecessor was brought down by incompetence epitomized by the never ending CAD to CAD project. Some hold an even harsher opinion. Others contend he moved to greener pastures and given the only metric he seemed concerned with was budget expansion (whether overall budget or scope explosion of individual projects) that is quite plausible. In any event your arrival is the upgrade to the second pole holding up the tent over this three ring circus.

The third pole is the Dunwoody Police Department and that has been a train wreck. As you might expect it is political suicide for elected officials to criticize the local gendarmes and some of the current elected officials held quite the sycophantic view of the DeKalb force but now cast a similar gaze on the Dunwoody Police. Don't expect hard facts, informed opinions or objective views from the Lords and Lady of City Council. But you already know that.

You may also know some of the Police bunglings as several hit regional and national news. Of course there is the Scheiderman murder, handled so poorly that some pundits say Andrea should send the Chief flowers on his birthday in gratitude for her freedom. Though we are a young City we also have an unsolved double murder and despite the recent arrest of relatives on unrelated charges the murder case appears to be stone cold. The failed response to a 911 call where it was just too cold to hike up that long drive to check out reports of a fire which later caused a fatality. Or SWAT-ing on an attempted arrest but forgetting to cover the back allowing the alleged criminal to escape, never to be found. But they looked simply marvelous in their military regalia with their AR-15s.

As one would expect from the previous administration's love of money our PD has never seen a grant it could pass up. Military equipment? Because it is "free." An anti-terrorism junket to Israel that has shown no measurable impact on terroristic activity in Dunwoody. But, it was paid on someone else's dime. And then the rather opaque and unseemly association with FARA resulting in ordinances that could easily be dismissed as just another revenue stream but which also remove officers from the community undermining any platitudes about "Community Policing."

Then there is the inevitable budget bloat, most recently the addition of executive positions funded by our 2015 tax increase. If patrol officers are spread too thin to respond to what may (or may not) be a false burglar alarm would it not make more sense to beef up the patrol force rather than add more (and more expensive) high ranking officers? It would to any sane person and we suspect you fall into that category.

We also suffer from severe operational/training issues including over aggressive enforcement of DWB even to the point of calling in an indicate-on-cue drug dog when a member of We, The People exerted his Fourth Amendment rights. Or police shooting at and in one case killing citizens. Allegedly a GBI investigation took place, but it is indistinguishable from "close ranks and bury the story" and searching the official City website for "officer involved shooting" results in hits that take you to "404 - Not Found." But for the grace of God,  Dunwoody would have been Furgeson. We may be yet.

The challenges you face are enormous but if anyone is up to the task it would be a Ramblin' Wreck.

Thursday, January 1, 2015