Seattle should cut all exclusive franchise ties with Comcast

UPDATE: 

And Comcast went ahead and added the service program that I specifically declined numerous times anyway, according to this email I just received. Out of spite or stupidity? Who knows.

Mediocrity.
Mediocrity.

ORIGINAL:

This is a letter I sent today to Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council:

I urge the Mayor and City Council to reject any renewal of extension of any exclusive franchise contracts with Comcast. Our city is in dire need of competition, and the amount of money that Comcast pays us for their exclusive access is not with the trouble.

Their service performance and operational performance – especially their customer service performance – remains generally subpar. A variety of competitors exist who can take over some of their market share in time, and we can surely make up the loss of any dedicated money from them through other fees.

In short, our area had some sort of service outage. When speaking to them, all efforts seemed to fail to resolve it and I was told that a service technician must come out, but no sooner than Saturday evening, leading to 60+ hours of both cable TV and Internet without service.

I asked repeatedly: is there any sort of wide outage? It seemed unlikely that both cable and Internet would be out at the same identical time, both dropping at once. I was working and my system went offline, at the same time as the television my child and wife were watching. Comcast was adamant that there were NO widespread issues, and that ONLY I was affected. Then, I was told that I had no “wiring protection plan”, which I have never in 10+ year of Comcast heard of before.

For only “$4 a month extra,” I can get protection against wiring issues. If this turned out to be a wiring issue or a non-issue, I could be charged $50 for my Saturday service appointment without the “protection plan”. I declined and insisted on a supervisor, and only after asking several times was I finally transferred.

I asked the supervisor if there was an outage, while I watched both the cable modem and cable TV box come online again – at the exact same time, as they had dropped earlier in the day at the exact same time. He insisted again that there was NO outage and that ONLY our home was affected. I told him what just happened with the service restoring itself. The supervisor seemed surprised by that and seemed pleased. I then asked if he was aware of the current review of Comcast’s exclusive franchise here in Seattle.

The supervisor instantly changed to a tone of urgency and put me on hold. When he came back about 45 seconds later, he confirmed that – surprise! – There was indeed an “outage” in our “area”, but he declined to say how broad it was or how many people were affected. I asked what time their office knew about it.

Ten to fifteen minutes before I called them, and before the first person insisted I get a field technician that “may charge me $50 dollars” and who insisted the problem was on my side somewhere. The supervisor provided a series of excuses.

#1: “The supervisors all received notification of the outage.” When I asked why wasn’t it passed down to all staff,

#2: “This person’s supervisor is out today.” When I asked if that’s the only method of delivery – as that seems unlikely,

#3: “There is a notification board,” which may not have been read.

The ‘up-sell’ opportunity and profit margin of Comcast was more important than people in the city, and it seemed more crucial to avoid admitting or broadcasting that there was an outage. There was no alert on their phone system.

I’ve worked in the IT field for all of my adult life. I’ve worked for an ISP like Comcast, a web host, and many other disciplines. I understand quite well that “stuff happens”. I have generally been neutral on this topic of exclusive franchises personally, due to the fact that the Comcast service has been ‘good enough’. While the experiences with them when issues have occurred have generally been unsatisfactory on telephone calls, the incident today took it to new lows of mediocrity.

Do not directly re-engage with Comcast under any circumstances. Our city needs a better set of options. The lost revenue can be recouped through other means. We’re paying it all ourselves anyway – we’d be fools to assume Comcast isn’t just pulling those few million dollars a year out of our bills directly.

Seattle has literally nothing to lose by going against Comcast. Cut our exclusive ties.

Thank you.

Joe Szilagyi
Seattle

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“Absentee voting is fraudulently exploited.”

obamaromneySomeone I know recently said, “I think absentee voting is fraudulently exploited much more than early voting.”

There is zero real evidence of this. None. This often tossed out opinion is pure conjecture and fiction. My own state makes maximum use of this by all voting being done by mail, and it’s so heavily audited as to be over the top.

Even Texas, the King of Red States, audited their voting for overall fraud. It was something like 10-12 cases out of 48,000,000 votes cast, and that was something stupid like 50% were Republicans that voted in two areas from having two homes. I’ll grant that there was a 100x order of magnitude increase, right, in Texas? So lets say 1000-1200 cases out of 48,000,000 votes cast, which is an absurd thing to say, but fine: That’s 0.000025% of all votes in Texas being fraudulent. Let’s go down the rabbit hole in the 2012 Presidential elections…

  • Obama won Florida 4,237,756 to 4,163,447. Let’s say that 0.000025% of his votes were fraudulent. That’s a grand total of 106 votes. Irrelevant. He still wins by 74,203 votes.
  • Obama won Ohio 2,827,710 to 2,661,433. Let’s say that 0.000025% of his votes were fraudulent. That’s a grand total of 71 votes. Irrelevant. He still wins by 166,206 votes.
  • Obama won Virginia 1,971,820 to 1,822,522. Let’s say that 0.000025% of his votes were fraudulent. That’s a grand total of 50 votes. Irrelevant. He still wins by 149,248 votes.
"Hail Hydra," apparently.
Hail Hydra,” apparently.

No other swing states were even vaguely close statistically, all winning by 2%+ in favor of Obama and one in favor of Romney.

If Romney legitimately won those three states — and not Obama — that means we needed voter fraud rates of at least 8%. You needed a grand total of perhaps 389,657 people engaging in active voter fraud in those states alone. The likelihood of that is as great as the likelihood of Obama having been genetically bred as a sleeper agent in Kenya in 1960 to infiltrate the US government 40 years later.

It’s a bullshit argument. But don’t take my word for it: one, two, three, four, five, and a lot more.

Posted in National Politics, Washington State Pollitics | Leave a comment

Will businesses leave Seattle with a minimum wage hike?

The $15/now people have filed a city ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour:

  • On Jan 1, 2015, the minimum wage for workers at big businesses will be raised to $15/hour and raised each year to adjust for inflation.
  • For small- and medium-sized businesses and non-profit organizations, the minimum wage will be phased in over three years starting with $11/hour on Jan 1, 2015.
  • Small- and medium-sized businesses are defined as having fewer than 250 Full Time Equivalents, the standard set by Seattle’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance.
  • No training wages, no lower wages for tipped workers, and no “total compensation.”
  • Increased worker protections against wage and tip theft.
$15/now protest, via theurbanist.org
$15/now protest, via theurbanist.org

I was thinking more about this. One of the most common complaints and cautions I hear is that businesses will leave the city if this passes. It’s a fiction and myth that all businesses CAN move. Will a small business that does not have a geographical dependence on a dense urban customer base move?

Maybe. Let’s say a light manufacturing or light non-retail commercial business. If they operate today in West Seattle or Ballard or wherever but could trivially operate in, say, Renton? Or Kent? Or any other outlying small towns? AND without being in jeopardy from losing veteran staff who may actually be the lifeblood of the business? Remember, some businesses are only as strong as their staff. In those cases — sure, they can bail, if no one has a problem with their much longer commute perhaps relative to where they were and other external costs from such a move.

Anything bigger than that probably already pays close to $15/hour already if not more. Remember, too, that the bigger a business is the more difficult it may be for them to move due to reliance on other factors, and that they’re also able to more easily absorb cost changes like this in many cases.

But for businesses that rely upon instant and immediate access to a dense core of foot traffic or population, which is the bulk of the businesses that will be affected by the $15/now movement? Where will the small businesses near Pike Place Market, the Alaska Junction, or any other dense area in the city find comparable action outside of Seattle? We’re a captive market and the biggest one for 800 miles.

That’s just something to think about specific to the claim that “small businesses will flee” Seattle. Where is the small restaurant on Pike and Pine going to even possibly come close to the size of a customer base they enjoy where they are today, in a city ‘nearby’? Downtown Portland? Salt Lake City? Everything else aside, don’t believe that one line of argument for a moment.

My friend Ian, who has training as an economist, made a good point about this on Facebook:

Some won’t flee, they’ll close. Others will expand and employ more people as a result. The net impact on employment will likely be so small as to be lost in the statistical noise.

Whatever happens now is probably inevitable: 68% of Seattle residents support the minimum wage increasing.

Posted in Seattle Politics | 3 Comments

Can we fix SPD by handcuffing city government?

A primer: the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has a long history of issues, going back decades. Not unlike some other cities, of course—but the resistance to reform here seems to be especially thick, and institutional. Every successive mayor seems to be determined to try it their own way, and none of them by taking on the Seattle Police and their union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), which is one of the most powerful police unions in the nation. It finally reached the point in 2011 that the Department of Justice began the takeover process of the Seattle Police force, as was done previously in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

In that primer link (you really ought to read it), you can see some of SPD’s history, but also the most recent fiasco. Dominic Holden, the editor of a local newspaper, was harassed by an active duty police officer. The journalist’s crime? Being a journalist and asking questions at a crime scene. In response, Holden filed a complaint and documented the process in great detail for the public to see. You can read Holden’s reporting about it (in order) here, here, here, here, and here.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

The end result was that the harassing officer was given a one day suspension. That suspension was overturned, apparently under pressure from the police union, under the support of our newly elected Mayor Murray and the current Police Chief. 48 hours later, the Mayor and Chief reversed their decision, after it was covered all the way up to the level of the national news media. Read it about here. This news report here is about the press conference after all of this happened.

Many people don’t understand what our Mayor Murray thought he stood to gain with such apparent strong support for the SPOG people (which is how this all unfortunately reads and plays). It’s already been demonstrated that a Seattle Mayor no longer ever needs their support to win. Mike McGinn, Murray’s predecessor, won his first election explicitly without any SPOG endorsement. Their endorsement is functionally powerless now for elections. For reforms, it’s Federal labor law that we’ll need to pay in the form in raises or other compensation for a lot of the changes that are needed, and there’s nothing to be done for that. It was always going to be cash in hand there as a requirement for real reforms… which is fine, and how the world works.

This all essentially makes no sense and has no political upside for Murray. All his political upside is to champion reforms and to be tough on and with SPOG and SPD. Aside from a very small, overly vocal minority, there seems to be popular support for hammering SPD into a new and more responsible form. There is no other obvious reason for Murray to cater to the vocal minority unless it’s playing the rather pointless “Seattle political process” to include the cranks and crackpots.

So, why do it?

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Your urbanism messaging sucks.

Pre-face: I’m personally strongly in favor of urbanism and building out the city I live in, which conflicts with a lot of people I know and work on projects with. I’m writing this from the point of view of someone in favor of growth, but not any sort of crazy “Let’s turn Seattle into Neo-Tokyo” sort of growth. 

Part 1: Backstory and some moral outrage.

Housing and construction developers are suing the City of Seattle over requirements for affordable housing, calling it “extortion”. That’s what got me to finally write this, after something had been bothering me for days, but that I could not quite put a finger on.

It ought to be stated first that unless the United States Constitution, Federal law, State Constitution, state laws, or City Constitution-type documents say a thing can’t be done, it can be done as fair game. Business and commerce, and property rights for land, exist as concepts because society allows them to exist as concepts. We have every right to attach conditions on them. If you’re some Ayn Rand sycophant or die-hard libertarian, I’ve probably already lost you. That’s fine; I think Rand’s teachings are a cancer on modern society that if I had God-like power I would expunge from history.

It’s the role of government to defend everyone’s interests to some degree. As the city’s new district elections have been locked in and residents are starting to get uppity about control of the city–to balance the scales against the “power” interests that have controlled things for some time, in particularly the explosion of new construction–it’s been hilarious to watch the epic sandbagging begin with a variety of fake local “think tanks” opening shop, that are funded by development investors, builders, and similar monied interests. Someone is starting to panic, not unlike the idiot billionaire that invoked Kristallnacht about the 99% uprising that’s politically underway.

That political undertow–people getting fed up with business and powerful financial interests–also plays a factor in all this. On the flip side, you have a handful of neighborhood groups forming web presences that claim broad coalitions (some are legitimate, however) decrying growth and change. When you dig into them it’s a couple of homeowners on a few blocks, which are no more representative or an authority on much of anything than a blog funded by a building company who hires a density booster to lobby on their behalf.

No one with any real world logic denies that we need a lot more building and housing stock in this exploding city. Seattle is a major living and employment destination now. It has been, in waves, for decades, but the strength of that wave this time is still rapidly accelerating. Our economy is booming locally. We have the lowest unemployment rate in all of North America for cities of our size or larger. A lot of us are all in favor of urban growth, some more than others, as it is in many ways an inevitability of the conditions our city and region find themselves in. Some people are upset with the implementation of the new developments and construction. Some are upset with the perceived immediate impacts of the developments on them and their homes. A tiny and largely dismissible  minority on each side either want to freeze Seattle in stasis (“Lesser Seattle“) or turn all of Seattle into New York City’s Manhattan.

The basic reality is that Seattle is growing and no one has any power to stop that. It’s all fighting over how it’s growing. That fight is getting extra confused and out of control because of the frankly awful messaging and optics of many people who are developers, and their supporters. Suing the city over affordable housing requirements is just icing on the cake.

Why is there so much discontent then, if it’s a reality?

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We need a Freedom To Record Law.

This was something that I wrote previously, for another purpose. I mailed it to a variety of local politicians, and received some feedback on it. Some aspects of it, as written, may conflict with some aspects of the Washington State Constitution in Article I, Section 7. I believe this is incredibly important, nonetheless. I plan on tweaking it and seeing what can become of it.

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Mass photo gathering in UK.
Mass photo gathering in UK.

Dominic Holden, the News Editor at The Stranger, was apparently accosted by some law enforcement for taking their photo. He wrote about it, and is still reporting on it. Something may come of it, because the victim here happened to be a well-known news reporter. When this happens to a regular person, very often nothing comes of it.

This isn’t a unique incident. There is a growing national and international trend where law enforcement has taken offense to the omnipresent nature of video and photography equipment, due to their integration with cellular phones. Many US courts generally have recognized communicative photography in public spaces to be a protected action under the First Amendment.

Regardless, law enforcement officials continue to violate the rights of people engaging in these lawful speech actions, in public areas where there is by law and legal convention never any expectation of privacy. Additionally, States can exceed rights granted to residents beyond Federal levels. Federal agents can search your garbage without a warrant. In Washington, state and lower level authorities cannot without a warrant. The same concept here can be extended to protecting recordings.

This is now such a common occurrence nationwide that there are websites dedicated to cataloging these incidents. The most prominent of these websites is “Photography Is Not A Crime”, which is now so well known that it is routinely referenced by media sources and even law reviews.

I wrote my representatives in the 34th District, and Jamie Pedersen of the 43rd, who is chair of our House Judiciary committee, asking them to create a Freedom To Record Law.

The bullet points of the hypothetical law would be this:

  • Positively affirm that all people have the legally protected right to engage in photography, video recordings, or audio recordings in public areas.
  • Define broadly the lawful, protected acts of recordings in public spaces and extend the definition to private spaces where you have a reasonable expectation to be (like your home, a supermarket, a bus, or a train station).
  • Make it a criminal offense to directly or indirectly interfere with the protected acts, including both personal financial and criminal penalties for the individual interfering with the protected acts, or to threaten retaliation or intimidation over recordings.
  • Include enhanced penalties when the criminal interference with recording is a violation of constitutional rights or result in damage or destruction of your equipment or data.
  • Specify that law enforcement can recover your data for evidence, but they must provide you a chance to backup or transmit the data for your own safekeeping beforehand. Make it a criminal offense to interfere with this right to “transmit” or “backup”.
  • Mandate a “Duty to Report” for law enforcement of any knowledge of violations of this law by any other law enforcement, with criminal penalties if you’re found later to have violated the Duty to Report knowingly.

We are a nation of laws, and the First Amendment comes first for a reason. No one should be able to get away with violating the law that is the cornerstone of our Constitution, no matter what their role in society or job is.

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Posted in Washington State Pollitics | Leave a comment