Community Media: Selected Clippings – 04/15/07
Bill would close loopholes for cable competition
by Walter Dartland, Exec. Dir., Consumer Federation of the Southeast
Tallahassee Democrat (FL)
—> Fortunately, SB 998 was recently revised to include key pro-consumer provisions that close discrimination loopholes and prevent cherry picking. This is a very positive step for consumers, but we must remain vigilant to ensure that the provisions remain in the legislation as it makes its way to the governor’s desk. The telecom industry tells us that such specific anti-discrimination and build-out requirements are unnecessary and that it can be trusted to “do the right thing.” Surely we haven’t forgotten the telecom industry’s broken promises about rate hikes only two years ago. —>
“Access: City Hall” on Madison City Channel 12 Takes on Video Competition Act
by Barry Orton
Paul Soglin: Waxing America (WI)
Last Wednesday Madison’s City Channel 12 cablecast an hour-long live call-in show on the Video Competition Act. Channel 12 honcho Brad Clark tried to get either a sponsor or a proponent to balance the discussion, but no dice from AT&T or its “astroturf” sock puppets. So it was Mary Cardona of the Wisconsin Assn. of PEG Channels and your humble correspondent, with Stu Levitan hosting. We generated quite a few calls, and covered the main points of why the bill helps no one except the telephone and cable industries. Beyond the normal scheduled reruns, you can watch it online at City Channel 12; click the right side column on “Access: City Hall.”
Competition act for cable TV needs changes
Editorial – Gazette Extra (WI)
—> Foremost among the latter is the potential loss of JATV-12. That’s the local access channel under Janesville’s contract with Charter Communications. As proposed, legislation would reduce annual franchise fees, erase monthly subscriber fees that allow JATV to upgrade and replace equipment, and require JATV to actually pay to transmit programs to Charter and any new competitor. Worst of all, the legislation would require local access stations to offer 12 hours of programming each day, including 80 percent that is local and not repeating. JATV’s current budget doesn’t allow that; no way could it do so with less money.
Many residents appreciate seeing city council meetings, nonprofit news such as the Rock County Humane Society’s Pet Parade, candidate forums, community events and other local programming on JATV…
Lobbyists for AT&T and other companies are pushing hard for Senate Bill 107 and Assembly Bill 207. Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, author of the Assembly bill, has indicated he’s willing to improve consumer protections. The cities alliance has proposed 11 amendments to protect the interests of municipalities and customers. Other states that have passed similar competition acts have included many of these protections.
If such legislation does open the door to more competition and lower prices, that’s good. But only if it’s changed to protect consumers and public access stations.
Don’t be misled on cable law
Lead Editorial – The Commercial Appeal (TN)
—> As the law is now written, a cable provider is required to get a franchise agreement from each city or county in which it chooses to operate. This gives cities and counties leverage to dictate certain conditions to companies.
Like where and how the companies may install their equipment along streets and other public property. Like whether certain channels within a service area will be dedicated to providing community service or educational programming. And like whether a company will be required to provide service to the entire community, or just select parts of its choosing. Local governments also have the ability to set standards for acceptable levels of customer service, although some clearly do a better job of that than others.
Under the bill as drafted, all of those provisions would be weakened or stripped away entirely. The consequences are easy to imagine: Ugly metal boxes housing cable switching equipment sprouting unchecked along city streets. Channels like the award-winning one operated by Germantown High School being eliminated because they don’t fit a company’s competitive strategy.
Affluent urban neighborhoods getting the best service providers can offer, while customers in lower-income or rural areas pay jacked-up rates or get no service at all. And local governments would have even less control over customer complaints than they do now…
As Richard Locker reports in today’s Viewpoint section, legislators are going to attempt to work out a compromise between AT&T and the cable companies, local governments and consumer groups that oppose the bill as it’s drafted. It won’t be easy. If AT&T wants a shortcut around dealing with cities and counties, there may be no real middle ground.
Legislators shouldn’t take regulatory control away from the level of government that is closest to the people.
Gloves are off as AT&T’s bid to enter market nears showdown
by Richard Locker
The Commercial Appeal (TN)
—> But what’s AT&T’s angle?
Why are its executives fighting so hard for a bill, which they wrote, to shortcut their entry into the cable market? Why do their TV ads proclaim lower prices and other consumer benefits when they’ve said they won’t wage a price war? Why does the bill ban state and local governments from enforcing consumer complaints and from requiring them to serve any specific area? And what about this provision that grants authority to a provider “to construct, maintain and operate facilities through, along, upon, over and under the lands of any person . . . any public lands, rights of way or waters of this state”?
Why are city and county mayors opposing AT&T when everyone wants more cable competition, regardless of whether the state or cities or counties issue the business license? Don’t they just want to keep that 5 percent I pay on my cable bill flowing to municipal coffers?
Those questions constitute the basic issues lawmakers must resolve in the next few weeks over the proposed “Competitive Cable and Video Services Act” drafted by AT&T. If they’re not resolved before the legislature adjourns next month, there’ll be no action before 2008.
All sides agree that the outcome will set telecommunications policy in Tennessee for a decade — with impacts far beyond who delivers the History Channel into your home. The debate also will determine whether rural areas, small towns and other underserved areas get competition and the quality broadband Internet service they need for economic growth and education, whether school-based cable channels like Germantown High’s award-winning program continue — and how much we pay for it all. —>
‘Competition’ could have heavy cost
by Dr. Lurene Cachola Kelley, Asst. Professor, U. Memphis
The Commercial Appeal (TN)
—> Comcast, just as Time Warner did before it, provides a TV studio, staff and several PEG (Public, Educational and Government) channels. The University of Memphis is just one institution that benefits from this agreement. Each week broadcast journalism students deliver a campus-produced newscast to thousands of homes. We pay nothing for this valuable television time.
That’s nice, you say, but as a paying subscriber, I want choice. Me too, but I worry that the benefits, in this case, are short-term and the long-term loss is significant. If AT&T wants to profit from the Mid-South market, then we should gain the same fees and amenities received from Comcast. Not less.
If AT&T is allowed to bypass municipal franchise agreements, likely, its digital offerings will not include a student-produced newscast. Shows like this do not register on ratings meters and these PEG channels, by law, cannot generate advertising dollars. If a for-profit organization is not required to show this type of programming, it will undoubtedly disappear. You may never want to watch a local high school football game or city council meeting on a PEG channel, but many people do. —>
Bills would create digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’
by Frannie Wellings, Assoc. Policy Dir., Free Press
The Commercial Appeal (TN)
—> An army of AT&T lobbyists in Nashville are aggressively pushing legislation (Senate Bill 1933/House Bill 1421) that would eliminate long-standing consumer protections and local oversight of cable TV providers. Currently, local governments negotiate “cable franchises” to establish customer-service standards; provide funding for public, educational and government (PEG) access channels; and ensure that consumers can call local officials to resolve problems with their cable company.
Most important, nearly all local franchise agreements require the cable provider to offer service to all residents in the service area, rather than just “cherry picking” the most profitable or wealthiest neighborhoods. These “build-out” requirements are vital to ensure that all consumers in a cable company’s area have access to all services — not just TV but high-speed Internet as well.
But the AT&T-backed bills would bypass this system of local accountability and replace it with a single statewide agreement that doesn’t guarantee consumer protections, competition among providers or choice for cable subscribers. In fact, they would prohibit local governments from placing critical build-out requirements on companies providing video services. —>
Plainfield group profiles candidates
by Janet Lundquist
The Herald News (OH)
Voters who want a last look at the candidates for fire, school, park and village boards before Tuesday’s election can listen to their final pitches in the comfort of their homes. The Plainfield Television Group, a public-access television organization, has posted recorded statements from each of 15 people running for local office on its Web site, http://www.plainfieldtv.com.
Jack Heimerdinger, the group’s executive director, said the statements — the final thoughts candidates wanted to leave with voters — were also shown on community cable Channel 6. While the candidate videos posted online are short, most of the interviews the group broadcast were as long as 45 minutes, Heimerdinger said. Each candidate was interviewed by someone familiar with the office, he said. —>
Bike To Work Day promotional video
Commute by Bike (CA)
From Stan Ng, producer of “Try Bicycling!”:
Several Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) members have collaborated to produce and star in a local public access TV show to promote Bike-to-Work Day. That show can be seen on local, basic cable throughout Silicon Valley starting on Tuesday, April 17 and continuing to Bike to Work Day on May 17… For those who don’t have Cable TV or who live outside the communities mentioned above, the entire program can be streamed to a computer via Google Video.
After Imus: 6 Steps Toward Fixing the Media Problem
by Josh Silver, Exec. Dir., Free Press
As the dust settles following the controversy, it is time to confront the fact that Don Imus’ remarks go far beyond one bigoted commentator. They are further proof that we must change the media system itself if we’re going to reduce hate on the public airwaves, improve journalism and media content in general.
Most of our TV and radio stations are owned by giant corporate conglomerates. They don’t represent the views of most Americans — and they make huge profits off the public airwaves. What we need are more diverse, independent and local media owners. The best way to stop this race to the bottom is to change who’s sitting at the top — and making the decisions about who’s behind the mic… Here’s a short list of what we can do to create a media system you want: —>
TV valuable management tool for people on death row
Texas Moratorium Network
—> He also suggests that the use of televisions on death row might actually ensure that inmates are mentally fit to be executed. If kept in isolation, he said, “the odds of inmates becoming mentally ill are greatly enhanced.” “That, of course, then leads to all types of challenges against whether you can execute them,” Riveland said. “And so, by not having televisions or other means of keeping them mentally alert, it may add to the taxpayer drain through additional litigation.” Below is an op-ed on the issue from 2004. —>
compiled by Rob McCausland
Dir., Information & Organizing Services
Alliance for Community Media