Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/03/08

[ NB: “…Bright House won’t force the county to meet mandated hours of original programming” – rm ]

County seeks cable ad deal
Hillsborough wants free advertising if stations are moved.
by Bill Varian
St. Petersburg Times (FL)

TAMPA – St. Petersburg and Tampa sued Bright House Networks when the cable provider bumped government television from basic service last month.  But Hillsborough County government is taking a different approach.

The region’s dominant cable company is requiring customers to rent digital converter boxes at $1 a month to keep getting four government channels.  In exchange, the county wants Bright House to give it $150,000 in free advertising over the next two years to promote county government.  That’s the highlight of an agreement commissioners will consider today. The proposal is on the commission’s consent agenda, usually reserved for noncontroversial items…

In addition to the advertising, the county would get:
-$5,000 to “rebrand” the county station, which moved from channel 22 to 622.
-Free digital conversion equipment for the county’s TVs.
-Guarantees that for the five years residents will not be charged more than $1 dollar monthly per television for converter boxes.
-A promise that Bright House won’t force the county to meet mandated hours of original programming.
-Access to programming on demand and to instant polling systems that the county expects to be available soon.

Comcast rings in ’08 with higher cable rates
by Anthony Westbury (with comments) (FL)

Happy New Year. Now pay your (bigger) cable TV bill.  That seems to be the message from cable provider Comcast to former Adelphia customers in Port St. Lucie, who’ll see rates rise by a couple of bucks a month in 2008.

“We have made a huge investment in the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast market,” said Comcast spokeswoman Marta Casas-Celaya in mid-December. “A lot of that is to make sure customers can receive state-of-the-art services and any new products in the future when they are offered.”

Thousands of Comcast customers in PSL and a much smaller group in north St. Lucie County (who’d really like to be Comcast customers) might take issue with that.  That’s because folks who live inside PSL city limits receive only very limited local-access channel programming provided by St. Lucie County.

For instance, while viewers of PSLTV 20 this month will be able to watch the county commission meeting of Dec. 18, they could do so only on Jan. 1 and 3 — at 1 a.m and 1 p.m. PSL viewers are able to watch school board or city council meetings, but very little county-produced programming and none at prime time.

In fact, only about 20,000 out of an estimated 240,000 total county residents are able to receive the county channel. Why? —>

Avon: Public access tv signal muddy
by Joan Wilder
Boston Globe (MA)

The fate of public-access television in Avon is up in the air since Comcast plans to close the Easton-based studio that Avon shares with four other towns. The station will not close until the contracts with all five towns – Avon, Easton, Holbrook, Raynham, and Stoughton – expire, sometime late this year. Avon uses cable to televise selectmen’s meetings and other public and educational events. – Joan Wilder

Cable firm, town agree to new pact
by Calvin Hennick
Boston Globe (MA)

Officials from Comcast and the town of Millis say they’ve worked through the main sticking points of a new contract for cable TV services and will finalize the agreement before the current contract expires on Jan. 16.  “We feel that we will be ready to deliver,” said James Neville, president of Millis Community Access Television.

The chief hurdle in the negotiations was the amount of the surcharge – currently 4.5 percent – added to customers’ bills to fund the local public-access station, which televises public meetings and other community events for Millis residents. Comcast had proposed lowering the surcharge to 4 percent for the upcoming 10-year contract but ultimately relented…

Another point of concern was the contention by town officials that the local station’s broadcasts were spotty, with interruptions in both the sound and picture. Particularly worrisome, officials said, were complaints by residents that reception went out during the last two Town Meeting sessions.

Officials blamed the dicey reception on the 25-year-old infrastructure of the institutional network, or INET, responsible for carrying the local signal.  “The age of the INET is such that it can’t sustain operating without failure,” Neville said.  “There are times we can go months without interruption, and there are others where we get four calls in a two-week period,” he said.  “As soon as we do a remote, all bets are off. Every time we touch the INET . . . to shoot a live function, be it a Town Meeting or a graduation, we lose the INET.”

Comcast has agreed to replace the network by May 1, which would ensure that it is up and running before the annual Town Meeting scheduled for that month. If Comcast misses the deadline, the tentative contract would require it to pay the town $400 per day until the network is replaced.   —>

WCCA TV 13 to Air the Inauguration 2008
by Tracy
Worcester Community Cable Access TV (MA)

WCCA TV 13 will cablecast the 2008 Inauguration of the Mayor, City Council and School Committee…  The hour long special presentation will also stream live at during the above times and will be uploaded soon to our website.  Congratulations to all the candidates!

Audio Documentary on Community Media in the YouTube Age
by Colin Rhinesmith
Community Media in Transition (MA)

For his graduate audio production course at Emerson College, my fellow grad student and CCTV colleague John Donovan sat down with staff and members at Cambridge Community Television to find out “why community media still matters” in a YouTube age.

In this 11-minute podcast, John first spoke with members of the staff who told him that “access to professional production equipment” and “affordable training” are among two of the many benefits of belonging to an access center.   —>

Fuzzy Deans
by Charles Warner
Media Curmudgeon

On December 22, seven deans of prestigious university journalism programs signed an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “A License for Local Reporting” that was fuzzy in its writing and thinking. Their hearts are in the right place, but their heads weren’t.  I read the piece several times, and here are some of the main points I think the deans were making:

1. That local television and radio stations should (my emphasis) “be doing their own news gathering, rather than merely serving as support systems for news gathering by newspapers.”
2. That the F.C.C. “ought to treat a broadcast licensee’s commitment of resources to original local reporting on public affairs as a key factor…” when renewing a station’s license and that “Companies should be required to make a persuasive case that they will increase their commitment to local reporting…”
3. That broadcast license renewal is too easy and that “…the pretense that there is a connection between the grant of a broadcast license and a promise to report on one’s community is all but gone.”

As Jeff Jarvis wrote in his Buzz Machine blog, “The deans sound like union organizers trying to protect headcount.”

But let’s go deeper and look at the basic assumption for the government regulating broadcasting. In 1927 Congress created The Federal Radio Commission, the predecessor to the F.C.C., to regulate radio “as the public convenience, interest, or necessity requires” and to bring order to the chaos of overlapping radio frequency usage. The assumption at the time was that the electromagnetic spectrum, which included frequencies used at no cost by radio stations, was a common asset belonging to the public and, therefore, should be used to benefit the public in some way.

Government regulations worked as long as stations had to demonstrate how they were assessing community needs and serving those needs in order to renew their licenses. But the F.C.C. changed those regulations in 1996 after intense lobbying by broadcasters and license renewals became virtually automatic. Broadcasting went from being a public trust to a private trust to benefit station owners, not the community.

And now, the F.C.C. is going to auction off a big piece of the electromagnetic spectrum which will become available when TV stations go all digital, HDTV in 2009. Don’t ask me how it works, because it’s too complicated for me to understand. But I do know that an auction will take place and that Google is considering bidding at a price that might be around $7 billion.

But if the electromagnetic spectrum is a community asset – an asset that the public, in a sense, owns – then how can the government sell it (or, rather, sell access to it) if we own it? If the government sells this community property for $7 billion, will I get my $20 share? Of course not, but I should get something that benefits me. Therefore, I think if the government is going to sell access to the electromagnetic spectrum to Google, then it ought to require that Google do something that benefits the entire community and has consequences built in if Google doesn’t do it (unlike the current no-consequences system for broadcasters).

The rumor is that Google wants the electromagnetic spectrum to create a nationwide wireless network – a reliable network from which Google cell phones could access the Internet free. Such a system would essentially put Verizon and ATT Wireless out of business, a situation that most citizens, especially me, would be thrilled about. Free cell phone service would be a terrific community service – a much better community service than I’m getting from my commercial radio and television stations.   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, channel slamming, cross-ownership, election programming, FCC, government access, I-Net, institutional network, media ownership, PEG access TV, public access television, spectrum auction, video franchising

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