Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/14/08

Legal battles stall Comcast’s plan to move public access channels
by David Ashenfelter
Detroit Free Press (MI)

A Macomb County judge issued a temporary order late today blocking Comcast’s plans to move community access channels higher up the dial and out of the reach of thousands of Michigan cable subscribers with analog televisions in Warren and possibly the entire state. —>

See also earlier stories today:

Judge to rule today on Comcast’s channel change
by David Ashenfelter, Detroit Free Press

Judge weighs request to block Comcast plan for public access channels
by Paul Egan, Detroit News


Comcast’s Response to Complaint on PEG Digitization Raises Broader Issues
by Jon Kreucher
Blogging Broadband (MI)

Things have been moving quickly in Michigan over the course of the last couple of days – just as predicted in BloggingBROADBAND last week.

After months of discussion and a letter from House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell failed to dissuade Comcast from its plan to digitize and migrate public, education, and government (“PEG”) access channels, two Michigan communities and one Comcast customer filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to stop Comcast’s PEG channel migration plan. The lawsuit was filed last Friday afternoon – less than 100 hours before Comcast’s plan would be complete as the clock ticked to 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. The parties’ briefing occurred over the weekend, and an oral hearing on the communities’ motion for a temporary restraining order was scheduled for today at 9 a.m. The matter has been docketed as case number 08-10156, and pleadings are available electronically through PACER.

The strain of an accelerated briefing schedule is revealed in the briefs from both sides: Some typos are found, for example, and with respect to Comcast’s response, policy arguments are raised more often than legal arguments. These aren’t surprises, really, given the short period in which the parties had to gather their thoughts. What was a surprise, however, was how readily Comcast submitted the questionable-at-best argument that Michigan’s new state law somehow controls the issue of whether the company can migrate PEG channels from the low, analog end of the lineup into the digital land of the 900s.

Like many states, Michigan has adopted a “uniform franchise” statute. According to Michigan’s new law, if a community can’t find authority in state law to impose a particular obligation on a cable operator, a local government can’t impose the obligation at all. Consequently, the argument goes, even though federal law permits franchising authorities to regulate basic service rates (Cable Act Sec. 623), state law prohibits such regulation; therefore, according to Comcast, no rate regulation of the basic service tier is permitted. Likewise, even if federal law permits franchising authorities to impose PEG obligations as a matter of contract (as it does at Cable Act Sec. 611), Michigan’s new state law vests no such authority, so such regulation is prohibited. Comcast, therefore, argues that any such contract requirements are prohibited.

Perhaps the time pressure was once again revealing itself, but this appears to be a very risky argument for the company. Essentially, Comcast is arguing a reverse-Supremacy Clause concept, i.e., that somehow state law is enforceable and must be treated as superior to federal law unless a successful, preceding challenge proved otherwise. The large risk for Comcast is that the federal court will call it like it is – or, as the Cable Act itself puts it: “[A]ny provision of any law of any State . . . which is inconsistent with this Act shall be deemed preempted and superseded.” (Cable Act Sec. 636). —>

Elmwood calls benefit from TCTV2 programming ‘huge’
by Chris Olson
Leelanau Enterprise (MI)

The future of TCTV2, a local public-access television station funded by franchise fees paid by cable television subscribers, is secure at least through June even though government support has been waning. Since its creation in 1995, TCTV2 has been funded by fees from cable television subscribers living in local government entities that make up the Cherry Capital Cable Council.

Originally, the council included the City of Traverse City, Elmwood Township in Leelanau County, Garfield Township and six other townships in Grand Traverse County. The Village of Kingsley and Paradise Township also support TCTV2, though they are not part of the cable council.

As of this week, however, only Elmwood, Garfield, Traverse City, Kingsley and Paradise are continuing to support the public access station by using a portion of the franchise fees collected within their boundaries. The City Commission in Traverse City has agreed to fund the station through June. —>

Bright House Settles Public-Channel Spat (FL)
Broadcast Newsroom

(Multichannel News) _ Opposition to Bright House Networks’ decision to shift public, educational and governmental channels in Tampa, Fla., high up into the channel roster has ended. The Tampa division of the Advance/Newhouse Communications-owned cable company and Hillsborough County have brokered a deal that would end local officials’ opposition to putting the channels in the 600 range of numbers. The telecommunications company has agreed to provide the county with $150,000 worth of advertising during the next two years. It will also provide free converter boxes to county offices, allowing government officials to view public-access programming. —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, cable vs telco, channel slamming, municipal programming, PEG access TV, public access television, video franchising

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