Community Media: Selected Clippings – 12/09/07

Comcast makes the change a year early
by Tom Gantert
Ann Arbor News (MI)

In what will likely be the first of several confusing changes for television consumers in the upcoming year, Comcast is moving the city of Ann Arbor’s Community Television Network channels from the mid-teens to the 900s. —>

Would buying cable channel-by-channel make sense?
by Charles Slat
Monroe News (MI)

Contrary to what some believe, SpongeBob Squarepants and Hannah Montana are not essential commodities. Unlike shelter, food, water and maybe electricity and ice cream, television programs can’t really be categorized as being among the basic needs of people. Yet there’s growing debate in government circles these days about whether cable television needs greater governmental regulation. The Federal Communications Commission has been hinting that it should have greater control because most of the nation now has access to cable TV.

At issue is a 1984 law that deregulated cable services. One clause in the law is something called the 70/70 rule. It says the FCC could re-regulate cable once 70 percent of U.S. households had access to cable and 70 percent of those households actually subscribed. Right now there’s a lot of dithering about whether those threshold numbers have been reached. Cable operators say they haven’t, that the numbers often change overnight, and that government re-regulation is needless meddling in the free enterprise system.

But FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican, has roundly criticized cable companies, contending that they’re becoming a monopolistic cabal that arbitrarily boosts prices and bundles into programming packages a lot of channels consumers don’t need or want. Local residents and Monroe city officials might be in a mood to agree, given cable giant Comcast’s recent decision to close its Monroe customer service office and move local public access channels to less accessible digital broadcast channels.

With which view do you agree? Free enterprise usually works fine, but here’s what has happened to cable through unfettered free enterprise:

* Cable rates are up about 60 percent since Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act – rising nearly three times faster than inflation.
* About 98 percent of consumers has access to just one cable company.
* About a half-dozen companies own about 75 percent of the channels on every cable system in the country.
* If a consumer wants 20 channels, chances are he’s going to end up paying for 120 or more.

Comcast to close regional TV studio in Easton
by Mike Melanson
Enterprise (MA)

Comcast intends to close its TV studio in Easton — used by Easton, Avon, Raynham, Stoughton and Holbrook — once cable licensing agreements with the communities expire, a number of local officials said. In response, Easton is considering forming a nonprofit public, education and government access corporation and leasing space or using space in a municipal owned building as a TV studio, said Paul DiNicola, chairman of the town’s Cable Advisory Committee.

DiNicola said Easton would form a nonprofit corporation in early 2008, and its directors would be responsible for establishing and operating a studio, possibly in combination with other communities. As negotiations with Comcast proceed, Easton will insist the cable company furnishes the means for Easton for a seamless transition from a company to a community-operated station, said selectmen Chairwoman Colleen Corona. —>

Comcast backs Lower Surcharge
by Calvin Hennick
Boston Globe (MA)

Millis – Representatives from Comcast last week told selectmen they think that a smaller surcharge on customers’ bills will still meet the needs of the local public-access TV station, despite the local cable committee’s arguments to the contrary. Comcast’s contract with the town is up for renewal next month, and the company has proposed decreasing the surcharge, which funds the local station, from 4.5 percent of customers’ bill to 4 percent. Negotiations are continuing this month, Town Administrator Charles Aspinwall said.

Too much, too soon
City’s communications proposal should not pass as written
Huntsville Times (AL)

Call it determination. Call it focus. Call it resolve. Without it, a person can find it hard to get anything done. But resolve exercised in an atmosphere of impossible odds and negative consequences may not be a virtue.

Huntsville’s administrative branch of government, headed by Mayor Loretta Spencer, has proposed – with the help of an outside legal firm working with City Attorney Peter Joffrion – a master communications ordinance. It would deal with any communications company that uses the city’s rights of way. That includes telephone, cable TV and other firms, even those that have only an electrical box on the right of way.

Some of the massive ordinance incorporates what is already the law. Those provisions are not in dispute. But other aspects raise red flags and set the stage for almost certain lawsuits. Cable TV and cell phone companies say they have serious concerns. Even so, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is AT&T. Under the proposed ordinance, it would have to pay the city franchise fees if it added video services to compete with the cable companies.

AT&T, in fact, says it wants to add just such services. But it argues that it is exempt from franchise fees because the state granted it the free use of the right of way in 1870. Make no mistake: AT&T will fight tooth and nail any attempt by the city to impose the franchise fee. It’s involved in similar fights in several states, though Huntsville’s proposed ordinance would go further than anything proposed to date in any city anywhere, according to those familiar with the issues. —>

But AT&T isn’t stupid. It apparently realizes it can’t go to the marketplace (in this case people who want more choices in video and Internet services) and try to use its competitive advantage without facing a backlash. After all, it was, and is again, the Ma Bell of business legend.

So AT&T, under a separate agreement, is willing to pay the city 5 percent on the total fees it would collect from video services. That’s what it would pay if the franchise fee applied. The company simply is unwilling to back off its legal position. AT&T is also concerned about build-out requirements. Those would require it to provide service citywide if the population density was of a certain level. The cable firms also have build-out concerns.

So if the city passes the ordinance – at least the version now on the table, which may change – it faces a multitude of lawsuits, lawsuits that could go on for years. AT&T has deep pockets; it’s not afraid to litigate. Indeed, one might suspect that the Alabama Supreme Court, if it ever got this case, would be reluctant to overturn or alter the 1870 right of way provision.

The city’s ordinance, in short, is too much, too soon. It carries the risk of a very high price at a time when the city is already wading through a deep swamp of litigation on various issues, including the delayed construction of the joint city-county jail. And there’s this: The last time the city waged a court fight with a communications firm, it lost and ended up forfeiting millions. —>

Ministers find Word spreads farther on air
Televangelism is changing as more local churches are broadcasting to reach people.
by Jeff Strickler
Star Tribune (MN)

“Jesus told us to go forth and spread the word to the entire world,” said the Rev. Randy Morrison of Speak the Word Church in Golden Valley. “I can’t physically do that, but my TV signal can.” And it does. Morrison’s sermons are beamed by satellite to every continent except Antarctica. But while his church has one of the most ambitious TV ministries in Minnesota, it is not unique. The days in which a handful of televangelists ruled the airwaves are gone as a growing number of churches here and across the nation take their messages to the masses via cable-access TV and Internet video.

About 200 Minnesota congregations now have their own TV shows, ranging from “talking head” lectures to elaborate, multi-camera church service broadcasts. Zion Lutheran Church in Anoka hopes to have its services on the Metro Cable Network today or next Sunday. The Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Minnesota is offering downloadable sermons and hymns while it readies a cable-access TV show on the St. Paul Neighborhood Network. Light the Way Church in Cottage Grove has a music video show aimed at teens.

“It’s more of a service to our members than an evangelism project,” said Zion’s Rev. Tim Johnson, who believes it’s a way to reach members who can’t reach church, especially in winter weather. “We are a regional church that draws members from five suburbs. And, of course, there’s an increasingly large population of seniors. We conduct communion services in six retirement facilities.” —>

UK refugee radio for Somalis launched
by Dalmar Yusuf
Media Helping Media

Dhalad Radio is a community-owned and controlled radio station which aims to encouraging diversity, creativity and participation from the Somali community in the UK midlands. The station broadcasts in Somali and English and delivers local, national and community news and entertainment. It is for all Somalis to express their needs and desires. It also offers community organisations the opportunity to use Dhalad Radio as a platform for their aims and objectives.

Dhalad radio is run by volunteers and does not have any paid staff. It is part of the UK’s Community Media Associaton , which aims to provide media and information communication technology access, training and employment in local communities. The organisation is particularly focused on freedom of expression as an essential for ensuring human rights. —>

Online video predictions for 2008

Founders of Brightcove, Jeremy Allaire and Adam Berry, have written a “state of the industry” report with some online video predictions for 2008. —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: a la carte, cable vs telco, community radio, FCC, Internet TV, PEG access TV, public access television, video franchising

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