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MI: Ann Arbor to Fight Cable Switch

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Created 12/20/2007 - 4:53pm

from: Ann Arbor News [1]

Ann Arbor to Fight Cable Switch

December 19, 2007
By Tom Gantert

Council Member Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, sponsored a resolution that calls on the Legislature to amend the state law to require cable providers to keep offering its public access and government channels in their customary channel slots.

Kirk Profit, a lobbyist retained by the city of Ann Arbor, said state lawmakers are just starting to take notice of the complaints and interest “is just starting to develop.”

Profit told council members on Monday he would take their concerns to state lawmakers in January but said, “I don’t have an answer for you, yet.”

Ann Arbor offers Community Television Network, which has four channels and offers 19,000 hours of programming a year with much of it government related.

The Legislature approved a bill that went into effect Jan. 1, 2007, that was meant to promote competition among cable providers. But Ann Arbor Chief Financial Officer Tom Crawford said when doing that, the law eliminated any power of a city’s franchise agreement in favor of the statewide franchise.

An outcome of that is Comcast choosing to move the community access channels from the low numbers, near the major broadcast channels, to channels 900-plus, which will get far fewer channel surfers, Crawford stated in an e-mail.

But Crawford stated it’s just not Comcast. AT&T also put the government channels outside of the normal “channel surfing” area.

Crawford said people who get AT&T U-verse will have to navigate through a series of menus to find Ann Arbor’s CTN channels out of a list of other cities. Crawford said an AT&T customer will have to go through three or four menus to find a City Council meeting.

Comcast is the major cable provider for Ann Arbor and the surrounding townships. It announced that effective Jan. 15, the CTN channels currently on 16, 17, 18, 19 will be moved to 911, 916, 902, and 912, respectively. To access those channels, customers with basic cable service would have to buy or lease a digital converter box or upgrade to digital service.

Comcast says it will provide free access for a year to digital converter boxes, but then customers will be charged a monthly fee. That current fee is $4.20 a month, but Comcast stated they often offer promotional rates.

City Council members have said they have been bombarded with complaints over the proposed change.

Barbara Clarke, chairwoman of the city’s cable commission, compared the outpouring of support for CTN to that of young people years ago who demanded, “I want my MTV.”

Ralph Salmeron, CTN manager, said the problem can be more than just an inconvenience. He said if the city had decided to declare a snow emergency after this past weekend’s storm, many people would never have gotten that message if CTN were in the 900s.

Higgins said Comcast’s decision was based on making money.

“These are very valuable channels, very close to network channels,” she said. “This is a decision of Comcast. … We don’t agree with this. We want our voices to be heard loud and clear.”

Said Council Member Joan Lowenstein, D-2nd Ward: “All we can do is pass this resolution and hope people who represent us in Lansing will take control.”

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