Community Media: Selected Clippings – 12/02/07

Comcast steps back from its public service
Cable provider less interested in community-access programming
Times Herald (MI)

Advocates of public-access television owe a debt to Lisa Hendrick, a Blue Water Area pioneer.  In the 1990s, Hendrick believed Marine City Commission meetings ought to be televised. When Marine City officials didn’t embrace the idea, she took her camera to the meetings, videotaped the sessions and got the city’s public-access channel to air them.  Hendrick’s reputation was great enough that East China School District residents asked her to help them videotape school board meetings. Today, the both meetings still are televised, but the progress this community achieved in making local government action more accessible is in peril.

Thanks to an increasingly questionable state law, cable providers are revising their commitment to public access programming. Adopted in December 2006, Michigan’s “Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act” was supposed to promote greater competition within the state’s cable television industry. The law’s real impact has been to relax cable providers’ commitment to local governments – principally, filming and broadcasting government meetings.

The first blow came with news last week that Comcast would move its two public-access channels, 6 and 12, to its 900 digital tier in January. Comcast officials insist users with Limited Basic, Senior Preferred Basic or Preferred Basic cable service won’t have to upgrade to more costly digital subscriptions. Those users still can access the 900 channels with a digital converter box, Comcast says.  The boxes, however, will be provided free for the first year. After that, those subscribers must pay between $2 and $4 a month to use them.

Then, Comcast announced its 13 stations throughout Michigan – including its Channel 12 facility in New Haven – would shut down by Dec. 14.  The New Haven station handles public-access programming for St. Clair and northern Macomb counties, according to Robbin Torrey, its station manager, who will lose his job.  When its operations cease, Comcast officially will stop filming local government meetings. Local officials will have to film those meetings on their own and submit the videotapes to a Comcast facility in Southfield, which would broadcast them.

Comcast’s policy change was abrupt. Since the state law now supersedes agreements cable companies struck with local governments, Comcast was free to pursue its best interests.  “I’m really shocked that they (Comcast) would make these changes with no notice to us,” said Port Huron City Manager Karl Tomion. “This doesn’t even give us time to try and find a way to broadcast our council meetings.”   —>

Comcast plans to alter channel lineup
by Deanne Rose
The Source (MI)

Watching televised city council meetings and school productions for area residents subscribing to Comcast cable services will change in January when local access channels switch to a digital format and relocate to the 900s, a move which upsets government officials.  Public, educational and government, or PEG, channels are currently available in lower-numbered channels on both digital and analog tiers of programming, but next year analog customers will need a converter box to watch PEG channels and the channel numbers will not be the same.

“The lower channels are a lot better,” said Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte. “Now, people will surf through and see (PEG channels), versus if it’s a 900 channel, it’s something they’ll never get to.”  The change reflects a desire for Comcast to deliver PEG programming in consecutive channels that would be largely uniform across the state, in response to the Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act passed in Michigan in December 2006.   —>

AT&T Got Special Favor
by Mary J. Healy, State of Connecticut Consumer Counsel
Hartford Business

To The Editor:

I take this opportunity as the state’s Consumer Counsel to address several inaccuracies in a letter to the editor filed on Nov. 12, 2007 by AT&T’s president in response to an editorial in the Journal (“Scrambled Signals,” October 29, 2007). This is a situation in which AT&T’s cries about fairness ring false: the loser here will be the state’s video services consumers and indeed the market for those services itself. AT&T has spent millions of dollars in a campaign around the country selling legislatures and regulators on the magic that could result from freeing it from regulation, without mentioning that where this one company “wins,” consumers and its competitors must necessarily lose.

AT&T challenges the Journal’s statement that the new 2007 cable franchise law operates “almost exclusively to [AT&T’s] benefit,” but the truth is that AT&T recently presented a superior court judge with legislative history indicating that indeed, the legislation was solely designed with AT&T specifically in mind. AT&T was evidently delighted when the superior court judge affirmed that reasoning when holding in their favor and allowing them to utilize the provisions of that new statute, claiming that doing so fulfilled the objectives of the new statute.

AT&T alleges that existing cable operators have been granted “monopolies decades ago” when in fact their franchises are non-exclusive and have always been subject to overbuilding by any entity interested in doing so, as in fact AT&T’s predecessor, SNET, did in the late 1990s when it rolled out 4,000 miles of cable TV infrastructure. When SBC bought the company in 1998, it relinquished the franchise, stopped service, and lost millions of dollars of ratepayer funds as stranded costs. Similarly, AT&T claims that consumer protections will remain in place, with the exception of build-out requirements, when in fact dozens of public policy goals that have guided the actions of cable providers over three decades may be reduced or lost .

AT&T claims that the video law does not provide it with an “unfair advantage,” when the legislative history it cited in court illustrates that AT&T enjoys a lower cost point, not because of a superior business plan and execution, but because the state legislature granted it a special favor in the creation of an unlevel playing field, at the expense of consumers. This imbalanced market for cable services will inexorably lead to a downward spiral of consumer services across the board as cable operators are forced to cut consumer services in order to match this artificial price point.

The OCC has worked hard during the last decade to implement competition in Connecticut for cable TV services, believing it is the only way to lower the high prices, improve customer service, and bring innovations and flexibility to programming. We’re very disappointed that the market is now at this imbalanced crossroads, but we will be working hard to assure that consumers receive the protections remaining under the new statute.

Comcast contract still bogged down
by Jason Graziadei
Inquirer & Mirror (MA)

Comcast, the national cable television and internet service giant, has rebuffed nearly all of the town’s demands in the ongoing negotiations for a renewed television contract.  Nantucket’s 10-year contract with Comcast expired in March, and the town accepted an offer to continue its current service until a new contract is agreed upon.

The Cable Television Advisory Committee (CTAC) has spent the last two years attempting to solicit public input regarding cable service and has continued to review a draft of the proposed new contract from Comcast.  The committee’s requests for a 5 percent surcharge to fund public access stations, a senior citizen discount, to maintain the on-island Comcast office as well as an extension of areas where the cable service is available, have all been removed from the most recent contract proposal from Comcast.  “They’re really not negotiating,” CTAC chairman Gene Mahon said at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “They’ve basically said ‘no’ for no reason.”   —>

The Unpress: Public invited to free Dec. 6 forum to weigh Internet’s effect on N.H. primary
by Bill Densmore
New England News Forum

Key political operatives, bloggers, academics and media figures from New Hampshire will gather on Thursday to debate how the Internet is affecting New Hampshire’s presidential primary. The public’s invited.

“The Internet is an emerging mass medium — a press without a press,” says Bill Densmore, director of the New England News Forum, a sponsor of the Dec. 6 event at Southern New Hampshire University. “How are candidate websites, blogs, mashups, meetups, social networks, citizen reporters and online fundraising affecting political dialog?”

“The Unpress: New Gatekeepers of the New Hampshire Primary,” is a free event open to the public from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.  in SNHU’s Walker Auditorium in Robert Frost Hall.

Featured discussion leaders — among bloggers, journalists, citizens and campaign offiicials — will be James Pindell, New Hampshire political corresponent and blogger for The Boston Globe/, Arnie Arnesen, founder of, and Dr. Kristen Nevious, Ph.D., director of the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at Franklin Pierce University.

“We’re inviting New Hampshire’s bloggers, reporters, citizens and campaign officials — anyone who is covering and shaping the primary in ways which weren’t possible a decade ago — to join the forum,” says Bill Densmore, director of the New England News Forum. “This is a town meeting about new forms of civic engagement.”

To reserve a free seat, go to:

The format involves a flexible line between audience and participants. The 200-seat hall will be openly seeded with pre-identified commentators among bloggers, mainstream media, campaign officials and the public. There will also be time for questions from other attendees.  Participants will consider informally three propositions:

1) As the gatekeeper role of the traditional press falls away, our democracy is more hopeful, more transparent and more accountable. Yes, or no?

2) Candidates now spend more time working the grassroots, because they need to influence the web conversation as well as the main-stream media. The result: Clearer issues, more discussion, more diversity. Yes, or no?

3) The Internet cannot alone close the loop on political engagement because it lacks the capacity to project a handshake, it does not replace face-to-face campaigning, and raises difficult questions about trust and conflict-of-interest. Yes, or no?   —>

New Qwest CEO coy about future
Mueller says he will announce new directions by end of year
by Andy Vuong
The Denver Post (CO)

By year’s end, Qwest Chief Executive Officer Ed Mueller will unveil his grand vision for the telecommunications company he took over in mid-August.  For some, the review is taking longer than expected, and when it is completed, don’t expect drastic change.  Though specifics are still in the works, Mueller shed light on some moves Qwest will or will not make:

* The company is not looking to buy a cell phone company, even though the wireless business is generating plenty of cash for its much-larger peers, AT&T and Verizon Communications. ”We don’t have wireless assets, and we’re not going to go acquire wireless assets.”
* Qwest is not going to pursue a broad video play, either. ”We’re not committing to a Verizon or AT&T whole video roll out. We’re not becoming a TV provider.”
* Qwest will detail its expected returns for the additional $200 million the company plans to spend next year to boost broadband speeds. Those details may include which markets will see the investments, with denser cities likely to be at the top of the list.
* Down the road, Qwest may look to partner with third-party companies to offer high-bandwidth applications and content, such as video-on-demand, to leverage the faster speeds.   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, citizen journalism, citizen media, election programming, municipal programming, PEG access TV, public access television, U-Verse, video franchising

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