Saturday, December 27, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
CITY ATTORNEY TO FILE FOR INJUNCTION?
According to David R. Hernandez, President of the L.A. Public Access Coalition (LAPAC) in addition to the City Council's consderations on Wednesday, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo is considering a request made by the LAPAC to seek an Injunction under the California Business and Professions Code 17200 to prevent Time Warner Cable from closing down fourteen public access studios and channels until such time as the City has provided alternative and equal facilities in their place.
PUBLIC STUDIO CLOSURE UNETHICAL?
In a letter dated November 30, 2008 Hernandez contends "the action of (Time Warner) closing fourteen public access sutdios offends public policy, is immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous and causes substantial injury to consumers who will be prevented from viewing independent programs on the City Public Access channels. Read the entire letter here.
COUNCIL TO SEIZE CONTROL OF PUBLIC CHANNELS
On November 22, 2008 the L. A. Council Committee on Information Technology Agency (ITA) approved a recommendation to consolidate all the public access channels into four government controlled channels and sent it on the the Full Council for final approval.
STATE LAW CREATED LOOPHOLE
The controversy surrounding the Time Warner Cable plans to close all public access operations by December 31, 2008 stems from legislation (DIVCA) enacted in 2007 establishing a State Franchising system under the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission whereby
cable operators pay a franchising fee to the Cities in leiu of operating and maintaining the public access studios and channels. See ITA website for description of recommendations.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
The Norteno Conjunto group from San Antonio, TX Dos Generaciones performs this piece at the 2008 Jump-Start Performance Party. This clip was for San Antonio Public Access TV. El grupo norteno Dos Generaciones toca en el festival de Jump-start en San Antonio, Texas.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
Congressman José E. Serrano
Chairman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
September 30, 2008 – Washington, DC – Today, members of the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee sent a letter to the FCC asking that it investigate the treatment of public access channels in the rapidly changing cable television market. The subcommittee wrote the letter in response to testimony heard during a September 17th hearing on the subject. The full text of the letter follows.
Chairman José E. Serrano of the subcommittee said that the letter “is a first step towards resolving the troubling issues and allegations brought to light at our hearing. Public access advocates believe that their programming is being unfairly treated as the cable television market becomes more competitive. Our constituents must have the same opportunity to watch public access programming as other channels. We look forward to the FCC’s analysis and will continue to monitor this situation.”
September 30, 2008
The Honorable Kevin J. Martin
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Martin:
As you know, the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held a hearing on September 17, 2008 on public, educational, and governmental (PEG) access to cable television. The subcommittee appreciates the participation of the Commission’s Media Bureau Chief, Monica Shah Desai, at this hearing.
We recognize that there are considerable changes occurring in cable television, including the transition to all digital transmission and the entry of new competitors and technologies into the market. We believe that these changes can deliver improved cable television for millions of viewers. However, we also believe that PEG television is essential to our communities as an outlet for free speech, local information and opinions, and emergency communications. Changes in the cable environment should not lead to a diminishment of the accessibility of PEG channels to these same viewers.
The subcommittee heard several concerns relating to PEG at the hearing. These concerns include:
· Some cable operators are moving PEG channels to new locations on the channel dial, including moving them into digital locations up to the 900 channel block. Witnesses expressed concern that this places PEG channels well away from the basic tier of channels and may require some consumers to rent or purchase converter equipment to view PEG channels.
· In its U-verse cable service, AT&T delivers PEG programming in a manner that is different from its delivery of commercial channels. The service offers PEG programming via an Internet-based video stream at a single channel location and requires the viewer to load PEG programming through a series of menus. Witnesses told the subcommittee that this method of PEG delivery is slow and technologically inferior to how commercial channels are delivered over U-verse service. They cited inferior picture quality, lack of closed captioning or second audio programming, incompatibility with programmable recording devices, and absence of program listings for PEG programs.
· Concerns also were raised about the degradation of public safety communications on AT&T’s U-verse service. U-verse’s emergency alert system procedures were described in testimony as “cumbersome and inefficient” and as not supporting emergency alert messages that would override or scroll on broadcast channels. If an emergency alert message directing viewers to a PEG channel for more information cannot be displayed, and if a viewer cannot immediately access a PEG channel with emergency information, we question whether emergency communications are being delivered effectively.
Ms. Desai made the following statement at the hearing: “The statute requires PEG channels to be placed on the basic service tier along with your local broadcast channels. So to place additional burdens on consumers to have to find their PEG channels seems to defeat the purpose of the basic service tier.”
We agree with this statement and believe that the concerns we heard at the hearing represent evidence that PEG channels are being assigned a second class status outside of the basic service tier. We ask the Commission to assess these concerns to determine whether the situations described are contrary to federal laws and regulations and, if so, take expeditious enforcement actions.
Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your response.
Subcommittee on Financial Services
and General Government
David R. Obey
Committee on Appropriations
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Groups Say Consumer Choice for Television Act Violates State Constitution
By Linda Haugsted
8/26/2008 2:02:00 PM
[ comments invited ]
A state court action has slammed the brakes on implementation of Louisiana’s new state franchising law, which was to take effect Aug. 15.
The state’s Police Jury Association (PJA)—the trade group for parishes—and the Louisiana Municipal Association filed a constitutional challenge to the act after it was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The lawsuit, filed Aug. 13 in the 19th Circuit Court in Baton Rouge, alleges the new law violates the state constitution because that document prevents the legislature from creating a law that “extinguishes” an obligation owed to a parish or municipality. Since the law allows current cable incumbents to opt out of their local franchise agreements, that alters the local obligation.
A court date has been set for Oct. 27, but while the complaint is pending, the state and the plaintiffs have agreed to suspend the opt-out provision so no incumbents will be able to move toward state regulation until the court case is resolved.
Dan Garrett, the attorney for the PJA, said he is confident the court will find the opt-out provision is unconstitutional. Then it will be up to the judge to decide whether to let the law take effect without the offending language or to strike down the entire legislation, he said.
The law, dubbed Consumer Choice for Television Act, was passed in June. It assigns franchising authority to the office of the Secretary of State, which has 30 days to grant a franchise. It may still grant franchises to new providers such as AT&T while the challenge is pending.
Providers can be granted 15-year, renewable franchises.
This is not the first time the municipal groups have fought state franchising. A law was approved by the legislature in 2006, but these same groups successfully lobbied against the bill and convinced then-Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to veto the measure.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
This clip was for San Antonio Public Access TV.
Friday, August 8, 2008
South Texas Media Access has scheduled a class on video editing for I-Movie (
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
by Bruce Dixon
Black Agenda Report
[ comments invited ]
Mass media determine public consciousness. But in the US, where mass media are owned and operated almost entirely by and in the interest of a greedy and irresponsible corporate elite, who keep the issues of control and governance of the internet, cable, broadcast and other media off the table. Potential growth of the media justice movement into an arm of a broad and popular social movement is a clear and imminent threat to the nation's bipartisan elite. And it's the only hope for many millions of Americans currently unable to speak with or hear their own voices, or to realize their own power.
The Black Stake, and All Our Stakes, in the Media Justice Movement, Part 1 of 2
by BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon
There's a fundamental legal contradiction at the heart of the nation's media regime. It's the contradiction between the rights of private ownership and the duties of public obligation.
For example, the law lays out in a precious few provisions, that the broadcast spectrum is scarce public property upon which licensees are allowed to operate their monopoly businesses on the condition that they serve the public interest. At the same time the vast majority of all the statutes, the judicial precedents, and the administrative law implicitly and explicitly recognize and make “legitimate” what amount to the private property rights over chunks of the spectrum on the part of broadcast license holders. You can't get more fundamental, or more contradictory that that.
Since the conflict between private media ownership and public obligation is almost never discussed where the public can access it, it's easy to see which side of the contradiction is winning. The very notion, in the US at least, that media can be operated any other way than as the private property of wealthy corporations is utterly off the table. In any rational world, we are told, it's the unquestioned rule. It's the rule in the courts, it's the rule at the FCC and in Congress, where Big Media employs hundreds of lobbyists.
Most tellingly, the political imaginations of many in the media reform movement are often limited to the horizons of what judges, regulators, lobbyists, legislators and political consultants think is possible or reasonable in the next year or two. That can't be good. Judges, regulators, lobbyists and legislators, even the best ones, don't start or lead mass movements. At best, their roles are to consolidate the victories of mass movements. At worst, they block, betray or bargain away the political advantages, the moments which significant changes in public opinion make possible.
The movement for media reform as we know it, achieved its first major victories in 2003, when it helped orchestrate a vast public outcry over the manifest unfairness of FCC rulings that would have allowed a single corporate entity to buy and operate seven radio stations, a cable company, newspapers and multiple broadcast TV stations in any single market and in dozens of cities across the country. There were literally hundreds of public meetings and demonstrations in towns and cities large and small. People sent tens of millions of phone calls, letters and emails to each other, and millions more to their elected representatives and the FCC before the courts and Congress stepped in to overrule the FCC's OK of Big Media getting even bigger.
In the years since, Big Media has pushed back on every front, vastly expanding the amount of cash spent on direct and indirect lobbying, particularly with African American legislators. Big Media's lobbyists have worked their FCC sock puppets to auction portions of the public airwaves to the highest bidders, to OK the end of network neutrality on cable networks, and more. The courts too, have acquiesced in the end of network neutrality. Big media's meat puppets in state and federal legislatures first pushed federal, then state cable franchising schemes that deprived local communities of any means prevent the digital redlining of poor, minority, and rural communities nationwide, and have worked tirelessly to prevent wi-fi wherever it reared its head.
It's an unequal struggle, one in which Big Media has many advantages. The biggest edge is that Big Media doesn't have to call mass meetings in ten our twenty big cities. Big Media funds the “policy round tables” of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and the National Conference of Black State Legislators, just to name two institutions, so the phone calls of its lobbyists are returned via speed dial every day of the year. Its lobbyists tell their think tanks and roundtables what they want, these tell the regulators and lawmakers, and unless sufficient public pressure is mounted every single separate time, it happens. Thus, the movement for media reform and media justice is deprived of the initiative, locked into a reactive posture. Whenever and wherever media justice advocates succeeds in delaying the latest grab of public resources, the matter goes into back rooms out of public view for negotiation, back rooms in which all the participants accept the fundamental legitimacy and primacy of Big Media's property right, whether in the broadcast spectrum, the cable networks (laid out public streets and roads) and telecom systems (developed with public money). In such an atmosphere, the most that media reformers are able to accomplish, when they claim “victory” is to limit Big Media to 40, 60, or 80% of what it wanted in a particular instance.
To qualitatively advance the cause of media justice, its advocates must begin to take the political offensive, to dictate the agenda, and to stay on the offensive. We must engineer what the media system is designed to prevent, namely an ongoing public debate on whether media --- the broadcast spectrum, the internet, cable and telecom networks should be controlled by and for a wealthy corporate elite, or whether people ought to be entitled as a matter of right to speak with and to hear their own voices, and to access the broadband technology that undergirds prosperity in the 21st century. The present election cycle offer a priceless opportunity to lay out, in a series of public meetings across the country, a media reform agenda against which to measure the promises and performance of the next Congress and the next president. Holding and publicizing a series of public forums on media --- to give candidates for Congress and the presidency some specific demands to react to between now and election day, between now and the new year when they will be sworn in, is a goal well within the resources of the existing media justice movement.
Toward that end, we at BAR here offer a short list of the kinds of popular media demands that might come from such a national series of media justice forums, especially if there is significant input from African Americans.
Repeal statewide cable franchising regimes, restore the power to local authorities to negotiate cable franchises;
Each state should conduct a thorough and comprehensive survey of broadband availability in order to identify underserved areas and guarantee universal access;
Local news gathering and local news broadcasts should be a requirement for most radio and TV station licensees;
Payola, the limitation of airplay based upon bribes to network and station execs, should be vigorously prosecuted;
Entities with three, four and five broadcast licenses in a single market should be compelled to give up some of those licenses;
More broadcast licenses should be in the hands of community and not for profit broadcasters;
More broadcast licenses should be in the hands of minorities and women;
Cable companies should be required to set aside a fifth of all their channels for public, educational, and governmental use as a condition of their use of public rights of way.
Legislative and regulatory barriers to local government sponsored cable TV and wi-fi companies should be eliminated;
Guaranteed network neutrality on the internet;
Give a large percentage of newly available digital TV and radio channels to new local holders including nonprofits and minorities instead of allocating them automatically to existing broadcast licensees;
Cheap high-speed broadband being essential to job growth, to the delivery of educational and other services, and to local economic development in general, should be recognized as a human right of communities in the 21st century.
Repeal the designation of CDs and DVDs sent through the mail as “parcels” and restore the ability to mail them at bulk rates so that independent distributors using these media can find their audiences;
Repeal the postal rate increases that selectively penalize small magazines and which were written into law by the lobbyists at Time Warner;
Force US cell phone companies to adopt the European model, in which one phone can be used for any company's plan, any plan ends at the 1st of the month, and switching plans carries no penalties.
Of course there are other demands. You've got some. Want to make them heard? Organize a meeting in your town and publicize it. That's what video cameras and YouTube are for. Do your part to build a chorus of voices demanding media justice. Do it NOW. Do it BEFORE the election, not after, because that's when candidates must at least pretend to listen. If you can't get your forum on before the election, at least do it before the new Congress and president are sworn it. Don't wait for public officials or supposed leaders to tell YOU what YOU want. It's your job --- our job, to tell THEM.
Will it happen? Will there be a series of national media justice meetings to explore, to elicit, to put forth these and other demands? We hope so. We'll do our part. And next week we will explore some of the hidden history of how America's unequal media regime got that way, and why the current way is not the only way.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta, where he pretty much guarantees there will be a major public forum to put these and other media justice demands on the plates of candidates for the new Congress and the presidency late this September. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
Monday, May 5, 2008
Killing TV Softly — Lone Star Public Access Survives, Barely
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
By Nathan Diebenow, Associate Editor Lonestar Iconoclast
What if there was a television channel on which you could watch whatever you wanted? Anytime throughout the day, the content from his station would follow your heart’s desire. You have a pension for the history of your town. It’s on. Need to feed your obsession about belly dancing? It’s on. Try a planning and zoning committee meeting on for size. It’s all available with a click of your remote control.
Now, let’s take it a step further. What if you had the power to show just about whatever you wanted on this channel? Your church’s annual Easter egg hunt, your advocacy for veterans’ health benefits, and even your teen’s high school football game are all part of a string of endless possibilities.
Here’s the thing: this special channel and many others exist, and chances are your cable provider and city have teamed up to give you them. Surprised? Well, the concept was invented and implemented in the early 1970s. It’s called public access television.
But if you don’t act soon, public access might disappear from your screens.
License To Kill
Since 1973, cable companies had been obligated by federal law to provide municipalities with public, educational, and governmental channels (aka PEG channels), the means by which to produce programming on them, and complete service across economic and social class. In those days, cities took advantage of these channels to air shows at a very inexpensive cost.
"Back then, equipment wasn’t light weight or inexpensive. It’s moreso that now, but still we offer them a venue where they can create a television program and put it on the air," said Fred Fichman, executive director of Houston Media Source.
"Public access television is a vehicle for people to take advantage of their First Amendment to the Constitution which allows for free speech, for young people to hone their skills in video, and for organizations, like 501(c)3s, to tell their story to more than with one- or two-minute sound bites on the local news," he added.
Then, 2005 rolled around. That year, Texas set a precedent. The Legislature passed Senate Bill 5 (SB5) after a heavy lobbying effort by AT&T and other telephone companies wanting to compete in the cable market.
Ever since that landmark deal was struck, telecommunication firms have touted it as a huge success story that lowered prices for consumers through competition.
But cable prices have continued to rise anyway.
"Actually, I got a letter the other day that Time Warner is increasing their prices to their consumers upwards of a dollar to two dollars per package, depending on the package," said Margaret Somereve, president of the Texas Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.
Essentially, SB5 changed the way cable and Internet video providers fund and operate PEG channels. Instead of signing franchise agreements with hundreds of individual cities, the providers now must file for a statewide franchise at the Texas Public Utility Commission within a 17-day window.
For access to a city’s rights of way under SB5, a cable or telephone firm must continue to pay rent to the city in the form of a franchise fee. This amount — five percent of the firm’s gross revenue — goes directly into the city’s general budget. It can be used to pay for any city services or projects the city council wants.
Under SB5, a state-franchised firm must also give its serviced city an additional one-percent fee from gross revenues. But this sum is earmarked for only capital expenditures for public access channels. What constitutes a "capital expenditure" remains undefined in the Texas law; applying it towards building purchases and/or salaries has yet to be tested in court. In any event, that one-percent fee isn’t payable to the incumbent city until its municipal franchise expires.
So what kinds of leverages do the municipalities get under SB5? Nothing. Cities under SB5 no longer can force these firms to build-out to everyone in their service areas. The telecoms can cherry-pick whom they serve. If residents do complain about poor service, they must do so to the TPUC, which then suggests they call their service provider.
The PUC has no power to enforce laws with fines; therefore, a consumer’s only avenue for grievance is to notify the Federal Communications Commission. Somereve, an assistant to the city manager of Farmers Branch, Texas, said that although her office has no authority, it will still try to work with residents and their video providers. "It’s strictly that we hope that on good faith AT&T will help us out because the resident called the city," she said.
The first Texas municipality impacted by SB5 was San Antonio. Cable operator Time Warner had furnished a studio, all the equipment and staffing (16 heads) for the city’s PEG system. But overnight, it was gone. Under SB5, Time Warner had no obligation to run any public access operations any longer. As such, all of San Antonio’s PEG channels went black at the end of December 2005.
The city finally got its PEG channels back on the air after seven months of lobbying by the San Antonio community. New equipment had been purchased to replace Time Warner’s. Yet today, 2½ years later, the public access producers are still lobbying for the city to build a television studio for them. In a perfect world, the old producers would get what they had before SB5, which was for paid professionals do all the work of creating television shows at their direction.
"Now you are in charge of filming, content, editing, which means you have to learn software on your own," said Patsy Robles Benitez, a San Antonio-based public access producer. "It’s very time consuming now."
To produce one 30-minute television program, it takes an investment of at least six to eight hours, estimated Benitez who produces a teen talk show called "411" (411show.blogspot.com/). Due to such time constraints on old producers, re-runs of old material are being shown on the San Antonio public access channel, she added.
To fill the gap of professional staff, a nonprofit — South Texas Media Access (txmediaaccess.blogspot.com/) — was formed to coordinate and train new producers to replace the old ones who were too used to the Time Warner set up.
"The most important thing that we have to teach other people is how to do it," said Benitez.
San Antonio Assistant City Attorney Gabriel Garcia said the city is still planning to create a studio facility that integrates the pubic access channel and its municipal channel.
"What you need is political will. You need people on the council that are willing to support these programs," Garcia said to an audience at the Texas Community Media Conference last March.
Much of the country looked to Texas for advice concerning copycat SB5 telecom bills in their state legislatures. As a result of those passing, PEG production studios have been dropping like flies across 17 states. Twenty-one studios in Indiana and Michigan closed just last year. Ohio, Florida, Missouri, and Wisconsin may go belly-up in five years due to lack of funding, so says the Alliance for Community Media.
Float Down Here
For San Antonio, the transition to the statewide franchise has been a living hell. The experience of other Texas municipalities has been varied, though. This is due in part because over the last 30-plus years, the cable companies willingly and sometimes by force passed the production side of PEG operations over to municipalities while still distributing their local content on the public airwaves.
"Fort Worth, I think, is one of the few cities in Texas that actually I think benefited from SB5," said Randy Westerman, Cable Communications Manager for Fort Worth Community Cable. "We’ve got a pretty good viewership here."
Westerman said that annual city surveys have found that 36 percent of the local population gets their news about city actions from the PEG channels. Day-to-day operating costs for the government and community channels are now being handled by the city under state franchises with four firms: Charter Communications, AT&T, Verizon, and OneSource.
Houston Media Source, however, almost went black. It operates Channel 17, which is one of three other PEG channels, two which are educational (Houston Community College and Houston Independent School District), and another, municipal. Thankfully for them, the community "jawboned" the city council and the mayor to save the station with its major cable provider Comcast.
"Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, and it’s the number 10 media market," said Fichman. "This is a major American city that would have lost its public access."
Word on the street is that public access is in danger of being shut down in the Sherman-Denison area, but a group is investigating ways to make it available again.
Of the public access operations the Iconoclast contacted, those in Austin (PACTAustin), Bastrop (Upstart), Dallas (Dallas iMedia Network), Fort Worth (Fort Worth Community Cable), and Houston (Houston Media Source) are handled by nonprofit 501(c)3 corporations. Being a nonprofit has allowed them greater flexibility in raising operational funds, running classes to train producers in their communities, and acquiring content to air regularly.
Currently, PACTAustin receives $617,500 to operate from the city as a pass-through from its major cable provider Time Warner. (Austin’s municipal franchise agreement expires in 2011.) Upstart garners no franchise fees from its city government and is thus outside of SB5’s funding loop. The City of Dallas gave iMedia $300,000 for this year. Fort Worth Community Cable has the same amount of money coming in from the city to run operations as before SB5. Houston Media Source’s operating budget returned to pre-SB5 levels after the city council stepped in to work out a deal last month.
Each public access entity also procured its facilities differently: PACTAustin is located in a city-owned building; Upstart, in one of two refurbished warehouses; Dallas iMedia Network, in a downtown public library; Fort Worth Community Cable, in a city-owned building; and Houston Media Source, in a leased space downtown.
All public access venues provide training to become producers for their channels. The cost varies from $20 to $300. Most centers require a yearly producers’ fee for equipment use. Austin has about 450 active producers. Dallas boasts 70 youth producers from a local magnet arts’ school. Fort Worth has 60 active producers; Houston, 300.
"I tell people often that you can learn in four weeks, spending $200 or $300 in all these classes, what took me four years at the University of Kansas, and even then, what I learned back in the mid-60s is like five generations removed from what’s happening now," said Fichman. "They can learn the techniques of shoot and edit pretty quickly."
In terms of content, use your imagination: cooking, semi-pro baseball games, church services, talk shows, current affairs, musical competitions, belly dancing, conspiracy theorists…
Several of the Texas public access stations expressed pride in providing Spanish language shows to their communities. Dallas’ station, in fact, produces a popular daily Spanish talk show that airs from 9 a.m.-10 a.m.
"There’s not one other Spanish-speaking talk show in the fifth largest media market in the country," said Lisa Hembry, President/CEO of Dallas iMedia Network, referring to her city. "The Latino population in Dallas apparently likes it a lot because when it’s not on, people call and say, I think, bad things to us in Spanish."
The Black Hole
Communities wanting to get their public access channel may face extreme difficulties under SB5. To get PEG channels, a designated city employee must call the cable or telecom company to ask for it. Under SB5, the cable or video service provider must give a large municipality (50,000 people and more) up to three PEG channels and a small municipality (50,000 or less) up to two PEG channels.
But the city must meet many requirements first, one of which is its ability to program 12 hours of content on the channel for each calendar day. Also, at least 40 percent of that 12 hour time slot must be "non-repeat programming." To get a third channel, a city must have both channels run 12 hours of programming a day for a calendar quarter, at least 50 percent of which is must be non-repetative for three straight quarters.
What constitutes "nonrepeat programming," however, is still unclearly defined by SB5, so bulletin boards may or may not be considered to fall under such programming.
Even then, it is becoming less likely that the public will see its local public access channels as easily, especially with AT&T’s U-Verse product. This system produces a multi-video cable-like product that uses the Internet as a distributor through an IP technology. Instead of giving viewers "channels" to surf, AT&T offers space to video programmers with discreet amounts of signal capacity.
To find all the PEG channels, AT&T forces users to unbury them on one single "channel," Channel 99. To view these PEG channels, a user must find Channel 99, scroll through a menu, and select the city (if it’s listed) to watch public access programming. This is different from cable service which allows users to quickly surf to see the content across all the channels. AT&T’s service still follows the letter of the law.
Service and picture quality differs between cable and U-Verse, as well. It can take upwards of 40 seconds to get the channel with AT&T versus two seconds to get it with cable, all due to different technology. The other kink in the U-Verse system is that municipalities must purchase a $6,000 box to route the digital signal from the consumers to the AT&T. With a cable company, the city just plugs into their system for free as part of the deal.
Municipalities are waiting for the result of a lawsuit filed by the Texas Cable Association over the constitutionality of the statewide franchise agreement system. The judge could rule in favor of the cable companies and kill all the existing cable franchise agreements in one stroke. Then, everyone in Texas would all fall under SB5, creating thousands of situations like San Antonio.
In the meantime, Congress or the FCC could act. Both were looking at franchise agreements seriously a year ago. There could be one federal-issued franchise that trumps all state-issued ones. "That issue is quite but it’s out there. It maybe a year before that pops up," said Somereve.
Still, Benitez believes SB5 must be changed for the sake of local community control, despite the power of the Internet which caters mainly to the affluent and the youth.
"You have to have broadband internet to be able to see video on the Internet. Even most of my own family don’t have high-speed internet. They simply can’t afford the broadband," she said. "I have websites. I get 100K hits a month. It’s great. But I do consider that I would like people in my own city to be able to see the work that I do and not just the people that can afford it."
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
Friday, April 25, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
A snowy transmission: Public access television threatened
Just weeks after Patsy Robles and her 15-year-old daughter stepped into the studio of San Antonio’s Channel 20 during the summer of 2004 they were on TV, a channel-surf away from the major networks.
Motivated by a desire to “counteract negative media stereotypes of youth,” Robles, an accountant, learned to produce television. Soon, belly dancing, 10-year-old mariachi players and 16-year-old news anchors describing the impact of Hurricane Katrina on young people could be seen by anybody with a basic subscription to Time-Warner cable in the San Antonio area.
This was public access television.
For almost two years their show, “411,” appeared four times a month. However, in late 2006, the studio shut down, and the channel went dark.
“I was totally shocked,” said Robles, who said she was given no warning of the move. “I didn’t even know if the channel was coming back.”
What happened to her and other access producers in San Antonio was a harbinger of things to come in others towns and cities where cable lines lay.
Last year, 21 production studios in Indiana and Michigan were closed. Funding for public access programming is expected to dry up entirely during the next five years in Ohio, Florida, Missouri and Wisconsin, according to the Alliance for Community Media, an advocacy group that organizes public access channels across the country.
The closings resulted from new statewide franchise contracts, which eliminated the longtime obligations of cable providers to local communities in 17 states.
Public access television has existed in the past because of “its close connection to the local community,” said Anthony Riddle, executive director of the Alliance for Community Media.
Established by Congress in 1973, the Public, Educational and Governmental channels were a trade-off for company use of public land to run cables and make a profit. They would be available for local groups and individual citizens to use in whatever manner they wished--sort of a modern-day electronic public sphere.
Now, “the telecommunications companies are not connected to the public that they serve,” said Riddle. “There is no accountability on a state level.”
Instead of having to negotiate new agreements with thousands of municipalities across the country, the cable and telephone industries heavily lobbied state legislatures for permission to strike the simpler statewide agreements. Local communities had no leverage.
As a consequence, said Riddle, cable companies are out to make new rules or “take an interpretation of the rules to shut down an access center.”
Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for the cable company Comcast, which has the Indiana franchise, noted that the law now mandates that access channels have to be available only on the most widely available tier of service.
Passed in a special legislative session in 2006, the new contract with the state of Texas made Time-Warner responsible only for providing the signal and distribution. It did not include funding the nonprofit organizations that often ran all aspects of the public access channel, including training for citizens and the costs of some equipment and studio time. The city was supposed to organize the channel instead of the cable company.
So the amateur producers of San Antonio were responsible for delivering broadcasts in “transmission-ready” format, but there was no place to produce shows.
Patsy Robles was one of the few able to survive the shutdown of the public access studio in 2006. She set up a makeshift studio in the back room of her office and posted content through YouTube, Blip.tv and a blog.
It wasn’t the same. Although site visits were up and comments streamed in from around the world, rates of San Antonio call-ins were down. She was losing her local audience.
When the channel reappeared six months later, Robles returned to the air, one of the few programs producing original material. But city officials had placed restrictions on the available bandwidth, and she could offer her show only once a month. Recently, that was increased to two shows per month.
When the Midpeninsula Community Media Center in Palo Alto County, Calif.,was moved to Channel 99 by AT&T, executive director Annie Folger became concerned that her shows would lose viewers and relevance to the local community.
AT&T’s new video service, called U-verse, was discriminating against her channel, she said.
Appearing like streaming video, the channel takes 45 to 90 seconds to load; picture quality is 75 percent worse; and there is no closed captioning, Folger testified in a Congressional hearing in January.
“This is a flawed technology offering us second-class accommodation,” she said. Folger has called it the equivalent of a cable ghetto.
In the Congressional testimony AT&T said that improvements were forthcoming.
A diverse ethnic population, Native Americans and military veterans produce programming. “These are people who don’t see themselves on the broadcast channels,” said Folger.
In Indiana, a local military care group recently asked Sheriff David Lain if it could appear on his show, “Behind the Star.” Lain had to say no, because the new Comcast franchise agreement had shut down the studio.
He had no program to air and no platform to offer the group.
That is a “great organization clamoring for a way to get the word out, and cable TV is the perfect way to do that,” he said. “Right now they can’t.”
Now, his Web site thanks viewers for their loyalty to “Behind the Star,” and he is determined to find the finances and the equipment to produce his six-year-old public affairs program.
The budget at the sheriff’s office does not cover television outreach programs. The community supports him. Not a week has gone by this year without someone commenting on the absence of his show.
“I’ve got some contacts, and I’ll see what I can do,” said Lain.