MI: Public Access Advocates Hoping to Hold on to Cable Channel

Posted on February 1, 2008 - 11:36am.

from: Flint journal

Public Access Advocates Hoping to Hold on to Cable Channel

January 30, 2008
By Joe Lawlor

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.

“This is not the way we do business — in Michigan or in the rest of the country — and I want to apologize for that,” said Cohen, while also noting that satellite and telephone companies are not required to provide the same level of public access programming as cable companies.

Comcast officials declined to comment to The Flint Journal on Wednesday.

Paul Herring, president of the Flint Producers Association and the producer of numerous public access shows, said he was so encouraged that for now he’s abandoned attempts to boycott Comcast.

“We’re going to give Comcast a chance to make good,” said Herring, who produces “Common Ground,” “Flint After Dark” and Flint City Council meetings.

Herring said he would like to see Comcast allow a signal to originate from Flint, as it does with Channel 18 at Mott Community College. That way, a non-profit group could set up its own studio.

Herring said he still produces shows from his own studio, but some public access shows are no longer in production.

Evangelist Geneva Spears, who produces and appears on such shows as “Streets,” “Jesus Girls” and “Soul-Winning Jubilee,” said she’s still producing shows, but she’s not happy with Comcast.

“After years and years of building up a following, to have something for the people, for this to happen, it’s just really sad,” Spears said. “All these programs are uplifting, inspirational and informative.”

State Rep. Lee Gonzales, D-Flint Twp., said while the unintended consequences of a new state law opened the door for Comcast to scale back its public access, he doesn’t believe the state should immediately pursue a new law to force Comcast to provide the same level of public access that it used to.

The new law fosters competition with Comcast, Gonzales said.

“We’re not happy with their business decision, but there’s got to be some middle ground,” Gonzales said.

Meanwhile, Flint resident Christopher Vanucci likes his public access programs, including Leonard, “that guy who sits around complaining about what’s going on in Flint.”

“It’s just kind of neat to watch. It’s something different,” Vanucci said.

( categories: AT&T | Comcast | MICHIGAN | State Franchises )