Last week, the Seattle City Council did something right.

As sponsor Jim Compton put it, "This is the day that we welcome competition to cable


Franchise players

Last week, the Seattle City Council did something right.

As sponsor Jim Compton put it, "This is the day that we welcome competition to cable service in Seattle." By a 9-0 vote, in a move hailed by all frustrated cable TV watchers, the council awarded a citywide cable franchise to Western Integrated Networks (WIN). In doing so, the council ended the neighborhood monopolies of AT&T Broadband and Millennium Digital Media.

Mass media—cable TV, computer, Internet, telephone, and much more—are rapidly melding together, and WIN aims to provide all of it to Seattleites at once. WIN says it will spend some $500 million to build a citywide high-speed fiber-optic network, offering—separately or together—a number of different phone, computer, and TV services by summer 2002. WIN spokesman Bill Mann says costs to customers will be "comparable and in some cases lower" than current rates. AT&T and MDM must scramble to rebuild their systems if they hope to compete.

On the downside, WIN's award adds to the grim reality of Seattle's media landscape, wherein every single major radio, TV, cable, and newspaper owner also owns media properties in other cities. (In its short 16-month history, Denver-based WIN has won franchises and is building networks in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, Sacramento, and Portland.) Few of these companies are based in Seattle. Long-term commitments to the community no longer exist.

In such a situation, the City Council must insist that a franchisee provide both good, affordable service to its customers and the ability for us to make—not just watch, read, or hear—local media. WIN says it will provide a couple dozen public access channels, investing $500,000 up front. That's a solid start, but it's a tiny fraction of WIN's prospective Seattle profits. And we depend on the city to make the corporation live up to its side of the bargain.

History isn't encouraging. A local public access TV producer, while rattling off a long list of past public access facility problems, notes, "The city's never been good at enforcing their contracts." By contrast, in Portland, an extensive public access agreement was negotiated and implemented, resulting in a blossoming of the city's self-produced media. So the council can take a well-deserved bow for the new contract, but they need to make sure that we win more than words on paper.

Shoot to limp

When Robert Pickett, a disgruntled white ex-IRS employee from Indiana, wandered around the front of the White House with a gun this month, a Secret Service agent shot him in the kneecap—through the bars of a gate.

That's a hell of a shot. Kneecaps are small and quickly moved. Most cops—including, by official policy, the Seattle Police Department's—would've gone for the chest, and today Pickett would be dead.

And what trigger-happy force would have waited until, as a Secret Service affidavit described, the shooting officer heard the click of the revolver Pickett was pointing at a bush where officers were hiding? Because of the Secret Service's admirable restraint, a man with mental problems, who may have been acting as a result of a disease beyond his control, is alive to get treatment. Were David Walker, the mentally ill black man shot to death on Queen Anne by Seattle police last April, only so lucky.

Drink to forget

Last Thursday, on the Seattle Post- Intelligencer's editorial page, syndicated writer George Gedda, mournfully recounting the loss of global support for United States-led sanctions against Iraq, trotted out the familiar argument that sanctions are all Saddam's fault—citing, among other things, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's observation that "Saddam's regime imports 10,000 bottles of scotch every month."

Let's see. In a country of 22 million, that's one bottle per 2,200 people—such wanton prosperity! At wholesale prices, that would equal nearly half a cent per person per month that could have otherwise been spent on food or medical supplies (a full penny if it's the good stuff).

Gedda didn't think to mention the 1 million to 2 million Iraqis, many of them children, killed by sanctions. Maybe their parents could use a drink.

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