Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/07/08

Get ready for six months of legislative entertainment
by Larry Daughtrey
The Tennessean

—>   The big fight this year, as it was last year, is over an effort by the telephone company to sell television programs in competition with cable companies. Most taxpayers could care less, but this is a LFEA, lobbyist full employment act. More than two dozen lobbyists have a dog in this hunt. You can see them marching in blue suited platoons through the Legislative Plaza, clocks ticking at $100 an hour.

AT&T vs. Cable, round 2
by John Rodgers [w/comments]
Nashville City Paper (TN)

Ding ding.  That’s the sound of the bell ringing to begin round two of the multi-million dollar battle between AT&T and the cable industry and local towns and cities over statewide television video franchising.

In case the ads running on television have not reminded Tennesseans, AT&T wants to get into offering television service here.  Last year, AT&T and its scores of lobbyists battled the cable industry and its scores of lobbyists to a standstill over the AT&T-backed legislation to allow them to get a statewide franchise to offer television service.  With the state Legislature reconvening Tuesday, AT&T is back again, making another push for its video franchise legislation.   —>

Comcast risks its commitment to public access
by Vickie R. Ledsworth [w/comments]
The Times Herald (MI)

The Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce sent the following letter to Brian Roberts, Comcast’s president and chief executive officer, in response to the announcement of its plans to eliminate PEG channels on the basic package for Comcast subscribers:

I write to express great concern over a recent decision by Comcast requiring subscribers to install an additional piece of cable equipment in their homes in order to view public, educational, and governmental channels, known as “PEG” channels.   —>

Local access switch riles officials, residents [w/comments]
Livingston Daily Press & Argus (MI)

As of Jan. 15, Comcast customers without digital cable or a converter box won’t be able to see public access, education or government (PEG) channels.  Comcast is offering the converter boxes free of charge for a year, but users will have to pay about $4 a month after that…  The shifting of the PEG channels is also rubbing some communities the wrong way.  Howell City Manager Shea Charles said relocating Channel 15 to the 900s is just an economic move by Comcast to offer other channels on the lower end of the lineup. He called the 900s the “barren wasteland” of cable.   —>

Comcast Deadline to Respond to Chairman Dingell Approaches
by Jon Kreucher
Blogging Broadband (MI)

Within hours, Comcast is expected to respond to Representative John Dingell’s December 21, 2007 letter which asked the company to postpone its plan to migrate public, educational, and government (”PEG”) access channels to the company’s digital tier.  Representative Dingell is Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and may well be the most experienced member of Congress on cable issues.  Nevertheless, I fear that Comcast will proceed with its plan.

Last November, Comcast announced that it would be moving all PEG channels from its analog basic tier — its lowest level of service — to the “900″ range of its programming lineup.  The company’s migration is to be finished on January 15th.  In order to complete the planned move, Comcast will have to “digitize” the PEG channels, and customers will then need a digital converter to continue to receive those channels.  While Comcast has indicated that it will provide digital converters for free to basic customers for one year, the company plans to charge for the digital converters thereafter.

Why the change?  Like most things cable, it comes down to economics.  To understand the equation, two things are helpful.  First, “bandwidth” measures a cable system’s signal carriage capacity — it’s like cable’s real estate:  The more you can build on a parcel, the more revenue you can potentially generate.  Second, the process of “digitizing” a signal also compresses that signal, and you can get a lot more within the same bandwidth:  In fact, you can get anywhere from eight to twelve or more digital cable channels in the same space as just one analog channel. To keep with the real estate analogy, the analog bandwidth can be thought of as being zoned for “single family” homes; the portion of the bandwith devoted to digital signals, though, is zoned for high-rises.  A lot more can be fit onto the same-sized parcel, which means a lot more income-producing potential.

So when Comcast reclaims the standard three analog PEG channels (one each for public, educational, and government access) and then digitzes those channels, the company can fit around one hundred eighty digital channels in the same bandwidth as currently used by three analog PEG signals.  The migration costs the company just three digital PEG channels, for a net increase in equivalent bandwidth of one hundred seventy-seven digital channels.  Essentially, Comcast will free up a lot of very valuable real estate if the migration proceeds.

So what’s the problem?  Comcast should be able to use its system as it sees fit, shouldn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  Cable operators use the public’s rights-of-way to deliver their services; consequently, there are some public-interest matters that have been imposed on cable operators since the industry was first regulated by Congress in 1984.  One of those public-interest issues relates to PEG.  From the beginning, Congress viewed public, educational and government access programming as the soapbox of the 21st century — a place where elected officials could reach out locally to their constituents, a mass medium that members of the public could use to express particular views, and an opportunity for schools to interact with parents.  While PEG channels may not be the most widely viewed or lavishly produced programs on the cable lineup, Congress knew that they nevertheless served important social and civic purposes.  Consequently, federal lawmakers felt that PEG channels should be made available on the lowest-cost tier to all cable customers.  Historically, this meant that PEG programming has been offered to all customers on a whole-house, equipment-free basis.

Comcast’s plan, however, changes two important aspects of this history.  First, just a slim majority of the company’s current customers has a digital box.  That means that about 500,000 customers in Michigan alone will be unable to view PEG programming after the January 15th migration date.  For those customers, the social and civic aspects of PEG programming originally valued by Congress will be lost.  Second, even if analog basic customers upgraded their service or obtained a digital box, those boxes would have to be located at every TV used in the house, as digital service is not the “whole house” service characterized by analog basic.   —>

Editorial: Gov should have vetoed cable bill [w/comments]
Capital Times (WI)

Gov. Jim Doyle recognized that Assembly Bill 207, the plan to restructure cable regulations to favor AT&T and other big telecom companies, was flawed legislation.  That recognition led Doyle to veto substantial portions of the proposal that was crafted by AT&T lobbyists and that critics say was advanced by Republicans in the Assembly and Democrats in the Senate in order to satisfy the demands of big campaign donors.

For instance, Doyle rejected language that limited consumer protections and prohibited state agencies from drafting administrative rules regarding the new franchise application and revocation process. That was a needed change.  Additionally, the rights of municipalities and their taxpayers have been protected at least to some extent by requirements that video service providers continue to pay for use of public rights of way.

Unfortunately, those positive changes are insufficient to turn this special-interest legislation into sound public policy.  Instead of trying to tinker enough with the legislation to prevent some of the worst abuses, Doyle should have taken a stand for sound government and honest policymaking. To do that, he needed to veto the entire bill. In failing to do so, he failed not just consumers of cable television services but the governing process.   —>

Barred from debate, Paul makes do
Candidate speaks with voters on community access TV
by Ethan Wilensky-Lanford
Concord Monitor (NH)

While other Republican candidates were preparing for a final pre-primary debate last night, Ron Paul staged a town hall meeting from a public access television studio in Manchester.   —>

Links to Ron Paul’s New Hampshire Town Hall
by Alan Bock
Alan Bock’s Blog

Here are links to Ron Paul’s Town Hall meeting, broadcast on New Hampshire public-access TV this evening.
Here’s Part 1.  And here’s Part 2   —>

Perth to get two new community radio stations
WA Business News (AUS)

Two new community radio stations are set to hit Perth airwaves in the next 12 months, following an Australian Communications and Media Authority decision to allocate two new licences to serve the city’s Indigenous and seniors communities.   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, cable vs telco, channel slamming, citizen media, community radio, election programming, video franchising

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