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FL: Are public access TV channels on the way out here?

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Created 09/25/2007 - 7:05am

from: Hernando Today [1]

Are public access TV channels on the way out here?
Published: Sep 24, 2007

Whenever we have an opportunity to grab something for "only" about one dollar a month, our anticipated reaction to most bargain-basement offers is usually to say, "yes, please."

Bright House, the county's TV cable carrier, is apparently counting on that very reaction. It presented plans for program realignment at a meeting of county commissioners a few days ago. Several public service channels are to be moved from basic channels to a low-tier digital network.

The "magic box" for those of us previously content with about 80 normal channels would be just around three cents a day or a dollar a month if we want to continue with public service on digital TV. Sounds sympathetic enough.
Wait a minute, though -- everything seems to be going up at least a dollar a month: a quart of milk, insurance premiums, rent, a gallon of gas, a pound of beef, a loaf of bread, and so on. Put it all together, and we've all got an additional $25-$50 in monthly operating costs to budget.

One commissioner, Diane Rowden, fingered the immediate problem with the new digital TV system. Many of us don't have digital and would need to add the one-dollar-a-month box to go on seeing commission and school board meetings, plus educational programming, on TV.

We don't have a choice, either. There is no competing cable company serving Hernando County. Satellite TV won't help; it doesn't carry the public service channels that thus far are the preserve of cable TV.

We're both forced to accept changes we haven't asked for, and to pay for channels we never bother watching. That's not surprising, actually; programmers display stunning big-business muscles.

Viacom, for example, runs CBS, MTV, CMT and Comedy Central, most of which we watch, at least occasionally. But, to get them, we also have to pay for Viacom's VH1 and TV Land. Who views the latter two -- unless, maybe, you're in the mood for a 1960's sitcom?

Commissioners have previously said that Hernando County doesn't provide an appealing number to potential subscribers to draw competitors. The commission had to twist arms, they claimed, even to get a long-term deal from Bright House.

Maybe, but Bright House's current 40,000 subscriber-numbers must be interesting to someone. After all, there is a small town in southeastern Massachusetts whose local electric company turns a neat little profit with just 5,000 cable TV subscribers.

A dollar a month may seem harmless enough to many. But to other cable subscribers on fixed retirement income, it'll be a squeeze. Commissioner Rowden was referring to them when she voiced her fear that Bright House's latest move would remove many of us from the information loop.

And then the other shoe will drop, in 2009. In Washington, the Feds plan to order all old-style analogue TV broadcasts over to supposedly superior and sharper digital systems sometime in the spring of 2009.

Millions of Americans, like me, with non-digital TV sets or with traditional rabbit-ear antennas will be left out to lunch unless they get digital converter boxes, this time for upwards of $50 a month, or even updated TVs for $400 or so each.

Not only will it hurt in the wallet; many of us have that old-fashioned philosophy, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"
Rowden posed a fascinating question, even if an answer wouldn't really settle our pain in the pocketbook: Why can't Bright House just wait and make all the changes in 2009?

Here's why: Public service channels don't attract many viewers; they're not ESPN or ABC. The cable companies understand and hope they'll eventually be rid of all their costly public channel commitments like rebuilding roads and relocating street lights when they bury their lines. What better way than to make public service less accessible and more expensive to the average viewer?

A regular columnist for Hernando Today, Herbert lives in Spring Hill. His e-mail is

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