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CA: Santa Clarita has a year to figure out a way to save public channel

By saveaccess
Created 01/24/2008 - 8:23am

from: The Signal [1]

City Eyeing Public Access TV Options
Santa Clarita has a year to figure out a way to save public channel.

By Katherine Geyer
Signal Staff Writer
Monday January 21, 2008

The city of Santa Clarita will spend the next year figuring out how to continue providing programming on its public access channel thanks to a 2006 state law that relieves cable companies of the responsibility of operating a public access studio beginning in 2009.

Santa Clarita’s franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable Inc. ended Jan. 2 as a part of a state law allowing cable companies to franchise with the state instead of individual cities.

Beginning in 2009, the operation of the Public, Education and Government Channel — or Channel 20 — will be the responsibility of the city.

Companies that had existing franchises with cities Jan. 2 were given the option to enter into a state franchise, but since Time Warner’s franchise agreement had expired prior to Jan. 2, the law requires Time Warner to hold a state franchise.

Throughout 2007, Time Warner had the option of renewing its franchise contract with the city. Now that Jan. 2, 2008 has passed and the city no longer holds a franchise with Time Warner, the cable company is now required to hold a state franchise. Time Warner submitted an application to the state in the fall and was granted a state franchise.

Before the law went into effect, cable companies were required to provide cities with a public access studio. As a result of AB 2987 — the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 — cable companies franchised with the state will only be required to make a public access channel available to the city and it is up to the cities to pursue having public access programming on that channel.

The law is designed to increase competition among service providers.

Time Warner will continue to provide cable services to the area and a Time Warner spokeswoman said Thursday that the company does not expect a negative impact on their customers.

“It keeps the playing field level to really drive true competition,” said Patricia Fregoso-Cox, vice president of community affairs for Time Warner. “It’s a very competitive market and we want to make sure that our requirements aren’t any more burdensome than a competitor in the same area providing the same services.”

The law stipulates that Time Warner provide the cities with the equivalent of 1 percent of their annual gross revenues to cover capital costs, like equipment, needed to be able to provide local public access, said Kevin Tonoian, the city’s technology services manager.

The funding would not cover operational costs like salaries, he said.

Tonoian said the city will spend the next year exploring its options to be able to continue providing a public access channel.

“Our intention is to take the next year leading up to that important date and develop recommendations for the city manager’s office and the city council on how we can continue to make public access programming available to the community beyond that date,” he said.

Before the franchise agreement changed in earlier this month, the cable company made six channels available for public use, but the city only used one.

In the fall, the city entered into a six-month pilot program with Santa Clarita-based Lauren Broadcasting Corp. to expand its SCVTV-branded news and sports programming on Channel 20.

When the six-month contract expires, the city will evaluate the success of allowing an outside firm to add programming content to the channel and will explore the option of allowing a nonprofit organization to operate the station.

“As we go through the evaluation, we may want to look into a request for proposal that would find someone to run the studio on a full-time basis,” Tonoian said. “We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface yet in terms of evaluating potential opportunities to manage the public access studio beyond 2009.”

Though the details surrounding the future of the channel have yet to be decided, Tonoian said the city is committed to keeping a public access channel available for Santa Clarita.

“It’s an important community resource and we recognize that,” he said. “That’s why we’re putting our heads together now 12 months in advance of the deadline to figure out potential options to continue managing that.”

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