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VA: Comcast expected to cut support for public access TV

By saveaccess
Created 12/23/2007 - 11:04am

from: News Advance [1]

Comcast expected to cut support for public access TV
By Alicia Petska
December 22, 2007

Comcast is looking to call “Cut!” on Lynchburg’s public access channel, with its next franchise contract expected to drop funding for the station that runs community announcements, City Council meetings and a bevy of public-generated shows.

The changeover - expected by the city for more than a year - was originally scheduled to start Jan. 1. That date has since been pushed back due to delays in negotiations.

This will be the first major change to the local cable agreement since the current contract was signed in 1988.

By law, Comcast, which took over Adelphia last year, still has to reserve a channel for any public access programming. New rules passed by the General Assembly, however, no longer require it to provide the studio space, equipment or manpower necessary to film those shows.

City Council has already taken steps to ensure its meetings will stay on the airwaves, setting aside $266,000 to start a special government station that will reside on Channel 15 and include both C-SPAN-like meeting coverage and original programming.

Within that budget, $166,000 is for staffing and running the channel, while the remaining $100,000 is for the purchase of new equipment. The city plans to take full control of the current public access studio, which is housed in city hall. It also recently hired a full-time “broadcast services coordinator” - former WDBJ7 newsman and Lynchburg bureau chief Steve Smallshaw - to oversee the line-up.

What it didn’t do, however, is earmark any money for the publicly produced programming it now shares space with on Community Channel 7.

Those amateur TV personalities, whose programs are largely but not exclusively built around religious messages, will be forced to bankroll their own shows if they wish to carry on.

Currently, it costs nothing to put a program on Channel 7.

According to city calculations, keeping the public side of public access going would take close to $86,000 a year, an expense City Council unanimously rejected back in August.

In making its decision, council noted the city has never had an obligation to underwrite those shows, and that not all of the hosts were Lynchburg residents.

A request for a schedule of Channel 7 programming made to Comcast on Tuesday had not been answered by Friday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia-based company, the nation’s largest cable provider, declined to comment on the pending changes until the new franchise contract was signed.

City officials hope that will happen by mid-February.

“We have tentatively gotten something together you could call an agreement,” said IT Director Mike Goetz, who’s been handling the negotiations. “I’m optimistic. I think it’s going to happen.”

Officials are working to get the new terms together in time to present them for a public hearing and possible vote during the Feb. 12 meeting of City Council.

If approved, the contract would be in effect for the next 15 years. The public access revisions are the only changes that will be noticeable to TV watchers - although, as Goetz pointed out, most of the attention-getting issues such as rate hikes or the reshuffling of the channel lineup are not regulated by these agreements.

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