MI: Comcast changes concern local officials

Posted on December 27, 2007 - 8:32am.

from: MLive

Comcast changes concern local officials

Posted by Julia Zaher | The Grand Blanc News December 26, 2007 15:33PM

GRAND BLANC TWP. -- Concern about Comcast's decision to close its public access television studio in Flint and move public access programming to the 900 channel spectrum has program producers, residents and local officials concerned.

"Genesee County has lost too much already," Ernestine Tune of E.M. Tune Productions told the Grand Blanc Township board at its Dec. 13 meeting.

Tune volunteers to videotape the township board meetings, which have been shown on public access Channel 17. She asked the board to take action to save the channel from being relocated to the 900s.

Channel 17 volunteer Scott DeMaria of Swartz Creek echoed that request. Comcast closed its Flint public access production studio this month cutting off access to both the studio and equipment many long-time public access producers have used.

"We need your help to save community access," DeMaria told the board.

Programming will still show on public access channels but producers must send it to Comcast's Southfield offices. In January, channels 17 and 18 will be moved to 900 channels.

"Right now people come to 18 by surfing channels," Grand Blanc Township Supervisor Jeffrey Zittel said.

He and many others doubt that average viewer will surf the 900 channels.
Additionally, anyone with an older analog television set will need a converter box to receive the channels. Comcast will provide the box free for one year.

In 2009, all television signals convert from analog to digital. Anyone without a digital TV will need a converter box to receive a cable signal. At that point, cable subscribers who need the box will likely be charged for it.

David Bertram, legislative liaison for the Michigan Townships Association, said Comcast appears to be changing public access channels in part because of a new state cable franchising bill signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm last January. It cleared the way for more competition among cable companies.

Although its subscriber base is small, AT&T, which got into the cable business this year, put its public access channels in the 900s, leaving room for more profitable programming on lower channels.

"We're very disappointed with cable operators," Bertram said.
So are local governments and the Grand Blanc School District, which five years ago made a major investment in equipment and created special programming that runs on Channel 18.

"This isn't good for government and the school systems," Grand Blanc Superintendent Michael Newton said.

Channel 18 carries a number of programs produced by students. Every classroom can view the channel as well.

"We use it for emergency situations to let the community know if we've got problems. We think there could be a decline in the number of people who view Channel 18," Newton said.

Under the new law, franchise fees previously paid to local government by cable operators will go to the state. It's unclear if any of the money will make its way to local communities.

Zittel said previously local governments receive $1.19 for each cable subscriber. That money was turned over to Grand Blanc schools to run Channel 18.

"It's going to hurt the schools. It's a funding mechanism they rely on for that education," Zittel said.

"The real reason is we're just putting them (public access channels) in the 900s to put them all in sequence statewide," said Patrick Paterno, Director of Communications, Comcast Michigan Region.

"Comcast has always been committed to PEG (public, educational, government) programming," he said. "We're working with each community on an individual basis to address their individual needs."

For now, it appears the change in public access programming is inevitable and there is little local municipalities can do.

( categories: Comcast | MICHIGAN | State Franchises )