Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/16/08 – Michigan Special Edition

City gets federal judge to delay Comcast channel switch
by Sean Delaney
Press & Guide Newspapers

DEARBORN – A plan from Comcast to move local access channels from the teens to the 900s on the channel dial has been temporarily put on hold following a decision by a federal court judge late Monday night.  “It’s great news,” said Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly. “So many things in our city are broadcast on local access channels, and we don’t want to lose them. We believe they’re important, and we’ve fought hard to keep them where they are.”   —>

Comcast to keep channel lineup
Cable board says court rulings a victory for all cities
by Catherine Kavanaugh
Daily Tribune

A pair of court rulings stopped Comcast from moving its community access channels into the 900-level range, where subscribers with analog televisions would need to purchase converter boxes or buy cable-ready TVs.  The temporary restraining orders issued in federal court for Dearborn and Meridian Township and in Macomb County Circuit Court for Warren are temporary victories for all municipalities, according Timothy Currier, attorney for the Intergovernmental Cable Communication Authority.

“The courts ruled to preserve the status quo,” Currier said. “We confirmed Comcast was scheduled to make the changeover (Tuesday). They haven’t. The channels are still in the same spot.  “From a technical standpoint it would be difficult for Comcast to switch Royal Oak and leave Dearborn and Meridian Township alone.”

The ICCA is an 11-community consortium overseeing cable service in Auburn Hills, Berkley, Clawson, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Oakland Township, Pleasant Ridge, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak and Troy. Last week the ICCA sent a letter to Comcast opposing the channel change, but it hasn’t joined any lawsuit — yet.  “We told Comcast if they changed they did so at their own risk,” Currier said. “Several lawsuits are floating around Michigan and we are monitoring the litigation.”   —>

Comcast must keep public access where everyone can get it (5 comments)
Livingston Daily

When a cable company such as Comcast is granted a franchise in a certain community, it’s pretty much a monopoly. That’s why communities historically have been able to gain certain concessions from the cable companies — among them, that a local public, educational and governmental access (PEG) channel will always be available on the system.

These local access channels have proven to be invaluable through the years, allowing local governments and school districts to communicate with residents, and giving residents the chance to air programs of local interest.

So it was understandable that many local officials reacted with outrage in Livingston County when Comcast announced plans to move the PEG channel here from Channel 15 — where it’s easily accessible to anyone who has cable — to a spot in the 900s on the list of channels. Or, as Howell City Manager Shea Charles accurately termed it, the “barren wasteland” of cable.

The change was supposed to take effect on Tuesday, but thanks to a ruling by Macomb County Circuit Judge David Viviano, the move has been put on hold. The hold is temporary (pending a hearing next week in front of the judge), but we’re hoping it becomes permanent, because residents lose all the way around if Comcast is allowed to move the PEG channel to the 900s.   —>

Courts stop channel move – for now
Communities right to challenge Comcast’s programming change (5 comments)
Times Herald

Comcast’s intention to change its commitment to community-access programming unquestionably is a step backward. The cable company’s plan to move those channels to the 900 digital level would harm subscribers whose analog televisions can’t receive the high-end signals.

Communities throughout Michigan enjoyed the ability to watch their local governments, school boards, churches and community groups. The programming spoke to Comcast’s public service value by putting thousands of viewers in touch with their respective communities.

That commitment was supposed to change Tuesday. PEG – public, educational and governmental – access channels were to migrate to their new homes in the 900 digital sphere. The courts have put it on hold – and that’s good news.  U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts Monday issued a temporary stay in Detroit. Her decision in response to a lawsuit from Meridian Township and Dearborn is telling.   —>

Committee Leaders Applaud Michigan Court Decision to Block Comcast Public Programming Proposal
Hearing Scheduled on Availability of Public, Educational Channels on Cable
For Immediate Release: January 15, 2008
Contact: Jodi Seth, 202-225-2927

Washington, D.C. – Leaders of the Committee on Energy and Commerce today applauded a decision made yesterday by a Michigan court to block a Comcast proposal to require some Michigan residents to obtain converter boxes to access Public, Educational and Government (PEG) programming. Comcast announced its new plan in November and planned to implement it today.

“I commend the court’s decision to block Comcast’s plan to provide PEG channels in a digital format only. This proposal would have forced many Michigan consumers to pay additional fees to rent set-top boxes to receive the high-quality educational programming they are currently guaranteed with basic cable service,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “I commend the Mayor of Dearborn, John O’Reilly, for his leadership on this issue. The Committee on Energy and Commerce will be examining this matter thoroughly in coming weeks.”

The Communications Act requires that cable operators offer local broadcast stations and PEG channels, to the extent required by the franchise authority, on the cable operator’s basic service tier. However, in recent weeks, Comcast has announced plans to convert analog PEG channels to digital format, which would require many viewers to pay to rent set-top boxes in addition to the cost for basic cable service in order to continue to receive PEG programming on all of their television sets.

“I am concerned that cable consumers are encountering barriers to receiving their public, education and government access channels,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. “PEG channels serve an essential role in local communities and I was pleased to see the court block an effort to make these channels available only to digital cable subscribers. As media consolidation continues to increase, PEG channels become even more vital in providing a much needed local voice and diversity of opinion. The committee must make it clear to cable companies that we are serious about protecting access to PEG channel programming.”

“PEG services play an important role in promoting localism and diversity in national media policy. They provide vital and vibrant services in communities around the nation and foster civic access and involvement in the best traditions of our democracy,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Dingell announced yesterday that the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet will hold a January 29, 2008, hearing to explore the provision of public, educational and government (PEG) programming by video programming providers. While witnesses for the hearing will be announced at a future date, the Committee will likely invite representatives from industry and local government as well as those involved with the provision of PEG programming.

Chairman Dingell originally challenged Comcast’s proposal in a December 21 letter (pdf).

Reporting From the Trenches in the Battle Over the Future of PEG
by Geoff Daily

I had the great fortune to chat with Lynn Meikle of Meridian Township, Michigan on Monday.  You may have heard of Meridian recently as last Friday they made news by filing suit against Comcast to stop plans to move PEG channels from the analog tier to the digital one, which would then force analog subscribers to pay for a digital converter box to access them.

According to Meikle, the problems started with the introduction of a new statewide video franchise bill in Michigan, which has to date been interpreted as an opportunity for Comcast to revisit its local franchise agreements and pick and choose which parts it wants to abide by and which it wants to ignore…

One example of this is Comcast’s closing of public access studios, which they were charged with operating and making available to the public per the local franchise agreement. Now Meikle says the public access channel is waning as anyone reliant on those facilities to create content can no longer use them.

But the issue at hand in this lawsuit is Comcast’s desire to push PEG channels off its analog tier and onto its digital one. For them, it’s a matter of economics. By moving PEG off analog, they’re able to open up sufficient spectrum to add 40 additional digital channels and free up additional bandwidth on their network…

…By and large, this developing legal situation seems like a prime example of the growing pains associated with being stuck in between the cycles of technological innovation. If everyone were already on the digital tier, PEG would gladly give up its analog channels. And if everyone were already online, PEG channels could reach the community without having to have dedicated spectrum from the cable operator.

But at the same time, if we believe in the need for robust local community media, we cannot ignore the plight of PEG channels. If we allow franchise holders to simply stop living up to their obligations, we risk losing the voices that PEG has helped make heard.

Instead, I’d suggest we need to look at two things:  What can PEG mean in the 21st century?  How can we refocus the system to support these forward-looking goals?  And forward-looking is the key term here. Now is not the time to only be lamenting over the loss of a bygone paradigm. Nor should it be an opportunity for corporations to increase profits at the expense of local community media.

Instead we should be looking to the future to find solutions, searching for ways to shore up the fundamental goals of PEG: to provide access to the tools and skills necessary to produce content, to provide a platform for the distribution of that and related content, and to provide a way to unite people with information that’s relevant to their communities. —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

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

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