MI: Legislators fight cable channel switches

Posted on January 10, 2008 - 9:18am.

from: Macomb Daily

PUBLISHED: Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Legislators fight cable channel switches

Comcast moving stations used by communities, schools to 900s.

By Frank DeFrank
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

State lawmakers may try to stop Comcast and other cable television companies from relocating government-access channels to less-frequented areas of the dial.

"There is a strong sentiment to protect these local channels," said state Rep. Steven Bieda, D-Warren. "These communities and schools have a vested interest in these channels."

Comcast, the nation's and Macomb County's largest cable company, angered local officials when the company recently announced it would move government-access channels from the lower end of the dial - in most communities, those are channel 5 for government access and 22 for school programming - to the 900-range.

In many cases, Comcast customers would have to acquire new equipment to be able to watch government meetings, local high school sports and other locally generated programming.

Operators of government-access channels contend the switch would reduce their viewership in the short term and could spell the death of government-access broadcasting in the long term.

"We're looking to stop Comcast and any other cable company from moving (government access) up the 900s, the Siberia of broadcast channels," said state Rep. Tory Rocca, a Sterling Heights Republican.

Bieda and Rocca were two of about 20 Macomb County elected officials who met Friday in a "strategy" session to determine what, if any, action they might take before Comcast completes the switch on Jan. 15.

Comcast is able to make the change because of a law that went into effect last year that loosened regulations regarding franchise agreements.

On Monday, Bieda said the cable provider has taken advantage of a loophole in the law to make the switch.

"This was sort of an unanticipated aspect of the (new law)," he said.

Bieda said lawmakers plan a two-pronged approach to halt the change:

A resolution that would specify the legislature did not intend to grant permission for cable companies to move government-access channels;

Another new law to block the move.

Olivia Visperas, government affairs manager for Comcast, said her company violated no laws in deciding to make the switch.

"We looked to make sure we were within state, local and federal guidelines," she said. "Any change is going to have its detractors."

State lawmakers are under tight time restraints. Comcast has announced the changeover will take place Jan. 15. Getting bills drafted, debated and approved is usually a months-long process.

But Bieda said he hopes lawmakers will address the issue when they reconvene this week.

"There's a great deal of support … I'd be surprised if it didn't go through," Bieda said.

( categories: Comcast | MICHIGAN | State Franchises )