Local Groups Petition FCC to Stay Ruling on Video-Franchise Reform
Groups say FCC decision will “severely restrict the ability of local governments to protect their citizens, rights-of-way, community channels, and public safety networks.”
by John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable
Local franchise authorities, including the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, have asked the FCC to stay its Oct. 31 decision extending to incumbent cable operators essentially the same video-franchise reforms it gave telco video providers in an earlier ruling. In a petition for the stay and reconsideration of the decision, the local government groups—more than a half dozen of them, including the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors—argued that the commission failed to preempt “most-favored nation” clauses (which specify that the a new entrants can’t get better terms than the incumbent) or to base its decision on “appropriate economic impact analysis.” The groups further pointed out that they had filed a lawsuit against the initial decision granting franchise relief to telco video providers.
“In the absence of a stay,” they said in the FCC filing, “petitioners’ members will be irreparably harmed.” The governments have said that the FCC decision will “severely restrict the ability of local governments to protect their citizens, rights-of-way, community channels, and public safety networks.” They argue in the request for a stay that by not preempting existing most-favored nation clauses, the commission “upended the franchise negotiation process.” “It has given incumbent operators free reign to unilaterally modify their existing contractual obligations, including PEG and I-Net support,” the filing states. “It will permit incumbents to circumvent the Commission’s stated objective that any modifications to existing agreements be assessed on a “case-by-case” basis.” —>
Dingell Asks Comcast To Rethink PEG Policy
by John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable
House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell has asked top cable operator Comcast to rethink moving public, educational and government (PEG) channels to the digital tier in some Michigan communities. Dingell (D-Mich.) called “very troubling” news that some of his constituents and other Michiganders are going to have to install a set-top box and eventually pay a monthly fee if they want to receive the PEG channels.
In a letter to Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts Friday, Dingell said he was concerned about what he said was Comcast’s decision to move the PEG channels in Ann Arbor and Dearborn to the digital tier as of Jan. 15, 2008. “Comcast’s analog subscribers will then need a set-top box to be able to view PEG channels, he said, asking Comcast to “reconsider this decision.” —>
Doyle signs ‘cable competition bill’
Small Business Times (WI)
Doyle Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle today signed the “cable competition bill,” which opens the door for AT&T Inc. and other entities to bypass having to negotiate contracts with local communities when they seek to provide video content that will compete with cable television. Instead, the bill grants statewide licenses to video content providers.
Assembly bill 207 law streamlines the cable franchise process by creating a statewide video service franchise process through the Department of Financial Institutions. The statewide franchise will replace the current process where individual municipalities grant cable franchises in Wisconsin. Existing municipal cable franchises will be phased out. Doyle said he preserved protections for cable customers through several vetoes…
Mark Miller (D-Monona) said, “I would have preferred a veto of the entire bill, but I am pleased Gov. Doyle vetoed the worst parts of the bill, particularly the ‘in perpetuity’ language that would have granted a video franchise forever. The governor’s vetoes improve consumer protection and provide for more industry accountability. I remain very concerned about the continued viability of local public access programming. However, the vetoes provide a window of opportunity to address these issues in the next legislative session.” —>
Wisconsin Governor Signs “Video Competition” Bill: Partial Vetoes Put Lipstick, Mascara & Rouge on Pig
by Barry Orton
Paul Soglin: Waxing America
Without ceremony, Governor Jim Doyle signed AB 207 into law today, using his partial veto power to mitigate some of the worst aspects of the bill. The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) was given significant powers the original bill restricted: rulemaking, setting the franchise term, state fees, applicant qualifications and revocation standards. So instead of being a rubber stamp, DFI will have some real oversight capability.
The cities didn’t fare as well. The Governor’s veto message bragged that he restored municipalities’ power to charge permit fees for use of public rights-of-way, but failed to mention that he didn’t veto a provision that such fees could be deducted from other fees due the cities. He vetoed a bad limit on auditing fees, but also inexplicably vetoed a good provision added in the Senate that allowed municipal control of the aesthetics of facilities placed in the rights-of-way. So, in all, not much help.
Public, educational and governmental (PEG) access channels didn’t get whole lot of help either. The word “noncommercial” was vetoed, theoretically allowing them “the ability to air revenue-generating commercial programming,” but the veto provides no specific help on funding cuts, technical signal quality or channel location. Expressing concern and urging the Legislature to deal with the issues PEG channels present in follow-up legislation gives new meaning to the phrase “lip service.”
AT&T is delighted by the signing, and seemingly unconcerned with the vetoes. More reactions in the media tomorrow…stay tuned.
Tctv2 supporters hope for better reception
by Melissa Domsic
TRAVERSE CITY — Local officials are likely to pull the funding plug on public access television, but a private effort to raise cash could prevent the community channel from fading to black. Traverse City is among a handful of governments that continue to fund tctv2 and the city plans to do so through June 2008, said City Manager Richard Lewis, who added he expects Elmwood and Garfield townships to follow suit.
But that financial support could end then, and require other mechanisms to keep the local access channel on the air. “I don’t think it’s our role anymore to go over and dictate what’s going to be happening at that channel,” Lewis said. “It belongs to the public … the government should stay the heck out of the way.” Traverse City, Elmwood and Garfield are the three official remaining members of the Cherry Capital Cable Council. The city and nine surrounding townships formed the council in 1993 to coordinate franchising and regulate cable rates and television. —>
Opposing sides meet about contentious cable permitting bill”
by Erik Schelzig
Lawmakers called a meeting between the two sides of a contentious cable TV permitting proposal this week in an effort to fend off a repeat of the multimillion dollar lobbying effort and advertising barrage of last session. The meeting was called at the urging of House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, sponsors of the measure told The Associated Press. Naifeh, D-Covington, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, officially stayed on the sidelines of the legislative tussle over the bill last session. —>
Rowley grants cable license to Verizon
by Lynne Hendricks
Daily News of Newburyport (MA)
There’s a new cable provider in town, after selectmen granted Verizon New England Inc. a 10-year license to use the public way effective Dec. 17. With the approval, representatives from Verizon said residents can begin signing up for service as early as this week. In contrast to the hearings held last November, when residents vented their frustration with current cable provider Comcast, those crowded into selectmen’s chambers Monday evening spoke mostly in favor of Verizon’s license approval. —>
A Solution to Diversity in Media Ownership and Opinion
by Geoff Daily
On Tuesday the FCC approved a new rule relaxing restrictions on newspapers who want to buy radio and television stations. The public reaction has not been positive as activists feel this is a step down a slippery slope of media consolidation, and newspaper executives don’t feel the ruling has gone far enough. A common thread found throughout reaction against this news is the rallying cry around the need to protect diversity of opinion. That if big conglomerates are able to continue buying up news outlets, public discourse will be restricted.
While I’ll give no argument to the fact that diversity in opinion in news and media is essential to making this country great, I do wonder about one thing: would media consolidation be that big of an issue if we lived in a world where everyone’s engaged with producing and consuming content over the Internet?
The Internet provides an open platform through which anyone can deliver their message, whatever that message may be. The Internet delivers opportunities to link people together, to share information, and to facilitate the collaborative understanding of issues. The Internet can support limitless voices and in doing so supersede concerns about the limited voices of consolidating media conglomerates.
The problem with the Internet from the perspective of diversity in local media is that since everyone can voice their opinion, the cacophony of perspectives can obscure truth. The problem with the Internet in getting these messages out is that not everyone is online and even those that are often don’t know what resources are available to them.
So in my mind, the issue should be less about lamenting the consolidation of media and moreso on how do we find more ways to leverage the Internet to allow for the creation of, discovery, and participation in a public dialogue that can not only provide balance to the views of media conglomerates but also expand the number and variety of voices being heard far beyond what is currently possible through the broadcast paradigms of print, radio, and television…
Don’t get me wrong, I have some significant reservations about how consolidation may impact public discourse in communities where the same company owns multiple outlets. (Though I tend to worry about this on a more macroscopic level related to the impact of the monopolization of media on everything, not just diversity of opinion.) But I’m also not totally against the idea of allowing companies to acquire other companies, just so long as we begin to support local community media to a much greater degree.
To achieve diversity in media outlets we need to do a whole lot more than encourage media ownership by women and minorities. We need to equip communities with the tools to engage their citizens, to encourage them to participate, to facilitate the production of independent news that can counterbalance concentrated private interests. It’s frustrating how so often the government tries to tackle issues individually as if they exist in their own in a bubble. To find the best answers, especially to questions involving the Internet, we need to think about things holistically, we need to realize that the best solutions may be found by solving tangential problems.
The topic of diversity in media ownership and opinion may be a perfect example by this simple idea: By supporting local community media, we can create diversity in local opinion. Another angle to this thought is that perhaps by allowing the consolidation of media and restriction of voices we will in turn bolster interest in the independent content created by local community media outlets. But this can only be true in a world where we’re working aggressively on getting everyone engaged with using the Internet and on supporting local community media, which has so far been best expressed through the many great things being done across the country by the PEG community.
by Sharon Steel
The Boston Phoenix (MA)
Is Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin working under the Imperius Curse? Andrew Slack, the 28-year-old founder and director of the Somerville-based Harry Potter Alliance, an organization dedicated to fighting the “dark arts” in the real world, claims it’s possible. In the Harry Potterverse, that means someone cast a dark spell rendering Martin incapable of making decisions for himself — he’s under the spell-caster’s control. In our reality, however, Slack is parlaying the expression to allege that Martin has been Imperiused by the Big Six media conglomerates (News Corp., Disney, Viacom, CBS, TimeWarner, and NBC/GE) in an effort to hush the voice of independent media sources. You might recall that in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, following Voldemort’s return, the media was censored by Death Eaters in order to keep the public from the truth. Slack says the last thing this country needs is the real-world equivalent, what he’s deemed “Voldemedia.” We’re not there yet, he says, though we are in really bad shape.
“Harry Potter . . . presents a vivid example of what can happen when the media is controlled by the hands of the very few,” says Slack. “Real issues are being ignored because it’s cheaper to cover celebrity gossip.”
In the past year, the Harry Potter Alliance — mission: promote Rowling’s messages of love, tolerance, and social justice — has launched grassroots campaigns to combat a host of issues, from the genocide in Darfur to racial and sexual discrimination. Slack has been troubled for some time by drastic cuts in foreign news coverage in favor of weather, sports, and tabloid items. But he was particularly disturbed by the inevitable repercussions of Martin’s proposal to allow media companies to own both newspapers and radio/television stations in the country’s top 20 markets. It came as no surprise to Slack when the FCC voted to accept Martin’s plan on Tuesday.
On December 10, Slack partnered with stopbigmedia.com to release “Potterwatch” (stopbigmedia.com/potterwatch), a combination podcast and free-for-download wizard-rock compilation titled Rocking out Against Voldemedia. The podcast itself is modeled after the underground radio show in Deathly Hallows that was designed to get real news and information to the wizarding community in spite of Voldemort’s restrictions. “They combined humor and real news, and that’s what we’re doing, too,” says Slack. The podcast features wizard-rock tunes, a 1940s-style radio play, and an interview with a Darfur activist who lost her entire extended family to violence in the region. —>
Sudanese media faces difficult material and political conditions
The media in Sudan are hindered by poor training and a lack of resources, and journalists are struggling to keep citizens adequately informed ahead of several important events in the country’s history. Media advisors familiar with the environment in Sudan say it doesn’t make much sense to establish newspapers in Sudan, especially in the South, Voice of America reported.
“There are no reliable figures available, but most estimates say literacy levels in Southern Sudan are no more than 20 per cent. The vast majority of Sudanese cannot read and write,” says the manager of Sudan Radio Services, Jeremy Groce, whose broadcasts reach Southern Sudan from Kenya. He continues: “And there are so many different languages in the region – so even if people could read and write, you’d have to print newspapers in lots of different languages – and that’s assuming there’s even a written form of that language.”
There are also few roads by which publications can be distributed across Africa’s largest country, which is prone to extreme weather conditions, such as heavy flooding during the rainy season. “Newspaper distribution is an extreme challenge: getting them out into rural areas is impossible at the moment. Some areas in Southern Sudan are only [reliably] accessible by air. The expense of getting newspapers out is very high,” says Groce.
So many are convinced that the future of Sudan’s media industry lies with small community radio stations. —>
Interview: “Miss Mia” Park, Chic-a-go-go
by Karl Klockars
The Chicgoist (IL)
—> For over a decade now, Chic-a-go-go has been fusing dance party with performance art, musical all-star revue with Soul Train bootyshaking. Mia Park, better known as “Miss Mia!” on the program, has been the face of the show since 1998 and her always-up rock n’ roll demeanor is the perfect complement for the diverse world of the program. For a city that has a long and storied history of classic children’s television, Chicago is woefully lacking any sort of homegrown kid-centric programming – save for Chic-a-go-go. It’s a cotton-candy headtrip with grooving kids, innocent fun, and Li’l Ratso with all his friends. It’s beautifully awesome. We talked to Miss Mia about Duran Duran, the Black Lone Ranger, and why you can’t date her, after the jump. —>
compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media