Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/30/08

Public Access TV in the Digital Age: Alliance Testifies Before House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet
Alliance for Community Media

The Alliance was represented by today by Ms. Annie Folger, Executive Director of the Midpeninsula Media Center. Ms. Folger’s remarks addressed the difficulties faced by Public, Educational and Government Access (PEG) communities across the country. Many communities are seeing threats to their PEG facilities posed by video providers unwilling to meet the public interest needs required of them in exchange for use of the public rights of ways.

Millions of dollars have been spent by telephone and cable companies in the past two years on ad campaigns and lobbying to influence state cable franchise laws in 17+ states. The FCC has overruled Congress, assigning itself powers that Congress conferred on local communities.

According to Ms. Folger, “This chaos is being used to dismantle PEG support and to damage channel quality and accessibility. We welcome competition. But it cannot be used to gut PEG Access provisions that have provided direct service to the local community.”

Ms. Folger’s testimony made special example of AT&T’s blockage of closed-captioning for PEG channels on its U-Verse system— a function which is found on all of its commercial channels. At DeAnza Community College in Ms. Folger’s home town, this policy results in the inability of hearing impaired students to view classes which they need to improve their lives.

According to Alliance Executive Director, Anthony Riddle, “AT&T’s practice is not the only bad act by a video provider, but their willingness to sacrifice the needs of disabled students in a race for profit certainly makes them the poster child of corporate irresponsibility.”

Another issue raised was the “channel-slamming” engaged in by Comcast. Channel slamming is the practice of relocating PEG channels from desirable locations to inaccessible or unfamiliar “wilderness” locations on short notice and without consulting the communities involved. Additional purchases or steps may be required of viewers to continue viewing PEG channels. This practice isolates the PEG channels and tends to decrease viewership.

Many PEG centers have moved into digital technology for production and transmission. PEG centers are fully engaged in migration to an integrated digital environment when allowed. The primary challenge for PEG access is not digital technology, but how cable providers— whether traditional cable operator or telephone company— provide PEG signal quality, functionality, channel placement and funding support.

Ce n’est pas la science, c’est l’art!
by Bunnie Riedel
Telecommunications Consulting

I do have a passion for two things, Science and Art. Science because I am in awe of those fifty pound brains that can figure out the solar mass of a black hole or the structure and functions of the GNAT superfamily of acetyltransferases; and Art, because I can’t draw anything more complicated than a stick figure and I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali. Ergo I was a wee bit fascinated to find out that Comcast really employs Art, much more than Science, when figuring out what to carry on the analog Basic Tier of Service.   —>

Public access advocates hoping to hold on to cable channel
by Joe Lawlor
The Flint Journal (MI)

He’s a slouching, white-haired government critic who shouts out of your television set and shakes his hands to make a point.  But Bob Leonard, the former Genesee County prosecutor, no longer appears on Comcast Channel 17.  Public access advocates have reason to hope, though, as recent Michigan court decisions temporarily stopped Comcast from moving public access channels to the 900s as the cable giant undergoes a digital conversion.

Leonard said moving to the 900s would significantly reduce his audience if he ever gets back on the air.  “If you’re going through the TV channels on your clicker, you might stop on 17 and say, ‘There’s that nut again. Let me watch for a few minutes.’ But who the hell is going to make it to channel 950? They’ll never get there,” said Leonard, who suspended production after Comcast closed its public access studio in December.

Public access programs produced at independent studios can still appear on Channel 17.  And while David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, did not indicate whether the company would consider abandoning plans to move the public access channels to the 900s, he did apologize before a U.S. Congress subcommittee on Tuesday.   —>

Comcast promises to fix community access channel issue
Associated Press
Detroit News (MI)

WASHINGTON — Comcast Corp. apologized today for the way it handled a proposed shift of community access programming in Michigan that would force customers to get converter boxes or new TVs to continue to watch local government meetings and high school football games.  Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and congressional Democrats criticized Comcast and AT&T Inc. for giving the public, educational and governmental programming, or PEG programming, what they termed “second-class” status.

“PEG programming deserves first-class treatment, not second-class billing,” said Dingell, D-Dearborn.  Dingell sought answers after government and consumer groups complained about Comcast’s plan to move the programming into the 900-level digital channel range in Michigan, part of a larger transition that cable companies are undergoing from analog to digital services.

David L. Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, told the panel that “in retrospect, we failed to communicate adequately our goals and to work cooperatively with our local partners to produce a ‘win’ for everyone.”  “That is not the way we want to do business — in Michigan or in the rest of the country — and I want to apologize for that,” he said.

Cohen said Comcast was “now engaged in friendly, and what I am sure ultimately will be fruitful, discussions” with Michigan officials, including Dearborn Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr., who also testified before the committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.  O’Reilly said he was hopeful that the parties could reach an agreement that would be “ironclad” for consumers.   —>

Letter to Tennessee PEG from TATOA

Texas Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors (TATOA)
P.O. Box 1088, Austin, Texas 78767
January 22, 2008

Dear Tennessee colleagues:

I understand that you are considering legislation that would undo the current system of local franchising for cable television services in favor of a state-issued certificate for new entrants such as AT&T. Because Texas is frequently referenced by proponents of this legislation (such as AT&T and “astroturf” groups like TV4US) as a “success story” for state-issued franchising legislation, we felt it would be important to correct some popular misconceptions about our experience in the Lone Star State.

While there are those who suggest that usurping the traditional role of local officials in approving local franchises (which include anti-discrimination provisions, customer service standards and the carriage of public, educational and governmental channels) has showered the state of Texas with benefits without any costs whatsoever, the reality is in fact quite different.

For starters, video prices have not decreased anywhere near the 25 to 50 percent suggested by telephone companies. In fact, nearly every video provider operating in Texas has raised its prices in the past two years. This includes AT&T and Verizon, the major proponents of Texas SB 5. AT&T has raised the prices it charges for U-Verse, and Verizon has raised its rates for FiOS twice in the past year and a half, including a most recent price hike of 11.6 percent, leading one major analyst to comment that “the increase should serve as a reminder (in regulatory circles) that the forces driving price increases are not limited to a ‘lack of competition.’*”

Furthermore, in May 2007 the Texas Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors released a survey of cable rates from more than two dozen municipalities throughout Texas. Our results showed that in the more than two years since Texas passed SB 5, the vast majority of Texas residents have witnessed only further increases in the rates they pay for video service from both incumbent operators and new entrants like AT&T and Verizon.

Two and a half years since Texas passed SB 5, AT&T U-Verse service has been deployed in only parts of San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Austin. Within those regions, we have little to no assurance that low- and middle-income neighborhoods will ever receive service, since state-issued franchise legislation exempted new entrants from anti-discrimination (or “build out”) obligations. We are not permitted to require AT&T to serve all residents or all income categories, and have no access to AT&T’s deployment plans. In short, we have little ability to protect low-income residents from discrimination that would deny them the benefits of competition to which their wealthier neighbors get access.

On top of these alarming trends, PEG channels have been put at risk of going dark. On January 5, 2006, Time Warner under its state-issued franchise dropped the City of San Antonio public access channel based on the argument that the City failed to provide eight hours of daily programming as required by SB5. It took 6 months of negotiations to get the channel back on the air. And when customers suffer from poor customer service or technical problems and place a call to their local municipality for help, state-issued franchise legislation prevents local officials from enforcing any customer service standards whatsoever.

As the first state in the nation to have state issued franchising, we have perhaps the best vantage point to assess the legislation’s strengths and weaknesses. Two and a half years later, there is little evidence of widespread investment throughout the State, competition or price cuts, and much evidence that the role of local officials in protecting consumers has been undermined.

Since day one, we have wholehearted endorsed the prospect of increased competition from telephone companies entering into the video business. Grande Communications has been successful in providing competition to Time Warner since the 1990s and Verizon received a franchise from the City of Keller and began offering its FIOS there before SB5 was passed. There is no evidence that local franchising is standing in their way of providing competition.

Many thanks for your consideration of our experiences, and best of luck in the 2008 legislative session.

Margaret Somereve, TATOA President
* Bernstein Research, 11/20/2007

Why the Airwaves Auction Matters to Progressives
by Tim Karr
Huffington Post

Believe it or not, we’re eight years into the 21st century and more than half of the people in America have either no Internet access at home or are stuck on dial-up. In the meantime, countries in Asia and Europe have outpaced us with faster connections at far cheaper prices.  This situation is unacceptable, but there’s still reason to hope that we can regain our spot as a world leader in Internet services. Much of this rests on the outcome of a complex airwaves auction that began less than a week ago.   —>

Provisions DIY: Miro’s TV Democracy
by Gareth
Signal Fire

When I wrote my book Leo Laporte’s Guide to TiVo (which was really Gareth Branwyn’s Guide to TiVo — I wrote the book, he got his picture and name on the cover), I titled one of the chapters “DIY Network Programming.” I realized that, with TiVo’s ability (especially a hacked Series 1 TiVo) to search through the TV guide data and record only the shows you wanted, you were basically constructing your own TV channel out of all the content available, using Google-lite searches. Miro is that same technology, but applied to all of the video content of the Internet and it’s cross-platform, free and open source.

Miro, which was first named Democracy, was created by the Participatory Culture Foundation. It works on Windows, Macs, and Linux machines. The really amazing thing about it is that it can scoop up pretty much any video content across the Web, from YouTube, Google Video, and mainstream TV content online, to BitTorrent (peer-to-peer file sharing) to any video content that’s attached to an RSS feed, anywhere in cyberspace. I love the way it so seamlessly integrates mainstream commercial content, P2P content, and amateur content so that they all carry the same weight. Democratizing, indeed. The mission of the Participatory Culture Foundation is to bring the power to create, distribute, and view Internet TV to anyone who wants it. It’s TiVo meets Public Access TV meets Google… or something like that. It’s your next download.  Here to download Miro.   —>

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, cable regulation, cable vs telco, channel slamming, Internet TV, IPTV, PEG access TV, public access television, spectrum auction, U-Verse, video franchising

One Comment on “Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/30/08”

  1. […] Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/30/08 [ ] Public Access TV in the Digital Age: Alliance Testifies Before House Subcommittee on […]

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