TCI's Net Drop Caught Heat

To the Editor:

I enjoyed Linda Moss's article "When Nets Get Dropped, They Pull Out All Stops" (Multichannel News, Oct. 21).

This reminded me of an incident that happened in late 1996 or early 1997 when I was working for TCI [Tele-Communications Inc].

TCI, under John Malone's direction, was dropping programming to gain bandwidth to place Malone's own Liberty Media Group programming in the vacated channels. Most of TCI's systems were antiquated at best in many markets and of low bandwidth limiting the number of channels that could be carried.

Des Moines, Iowa, was a prime example with much of the system built with the old fused disc cable, especially in the high-density urbanized area.

Much to Malone's chagrin, the reaction of the subscribers in Des Moines got the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which published a fairly large article on what happened there. I was friends with the Des Moines TCI general manager who was featured prominently in the article. It seems that Malone had directed at least the Des Moines system among many to drop the Channel 9 Super Station from Chicago, whose programming included [Major League Baseball's] Chicago Cubs and [the National Football League's] Bears games and MTV: Music Television.

The article described the normally unlikely combination of teenagers and senior citizens picketing the system office, each protesting the dropping of their favorite channels — MTV for the teenyboppers and Channel 9 for the seniors. Word quickly came out from Denver to reverse this decision and MTV and Channel 9 were restored. The TCI general manager said the crowd had hung him in effigy out in front of the office as part of their protest.

A few days later, Malone sent out a memo to all managers telling them that the next time he or top management did something stupid that the managers should tell them so. Of course, all the managers knew that to do so would put their careers at risk!

The cable industry is much like the old Walt Kelly comic strip "Pogo" where Pogo says, "We have met the enemy and he is us!"

Thomas Pearson, Hickory Hills, Ill.