CA: Broadcasting a warning for television

Posted on February 2, 2008 - 8:29am.

from: Palo Alto Daily News

Broadcasting a warning for television
Friday Feb 1

Media advocate: Public programming needs to be protected

By Kristina Peterson / Daily News Staff Writer
Congress got a taste of Palo Alto's civic engagement this week when a local media coordinator flew across the country to testify about the importance of preserving public access programming.

Annie Folger, executive director of the Midpeninsula Community Media Center, told the nation's lawmakers Tuesday about the threats a new AT&T service poses to public, educational and government access channels in the Palo Alto area.

Folger said she testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet to "let Congress know about the erosion of support for PEG (public, educational and government) access" from various video providers.

"These companies are trying to make business decisions to save money and bandwidth so they can make commercial profit," Folger said Thursday in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. "If they're not checked, public access could be lost."

Congress has been involved in protecting public programming since the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 established that cable companies must provide public access channels in exchange for using the public right of way, Folger said.

"It's like reserving a public park - a place for people to gather so it's not all commercial real estate," Folger said.

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in his opening statement Tuesday that without such structures in place, "the vast majority of this programming would otherwise not exist on the dial.

"It is important that cable operators, programmers and communities work together to ensure that consumer welfare is protected," Markey said.

But when AT&T rolls out its new "U-verse" video service in Palo Alto at a date still to be determined, the system will probably pose some problems for community access programs, Folger said.

Chief among her concerns are that broadcasts of classes filmed at De Anza Community College will not offer closed captioning for hearing-impaired students, the resolution of public channels will be reduced by up to 75 percent and the channels themselves will no longer be available at low-digit numbers, but scattered to the hinterlands of channel 99.

"It's 99 - it's easy to remember," countered AT&T spokesman James Peterson. He said criticisms of the new U-verse system, which is built on Internet protocol, are premature as the company is still tweaking it.

For instance, right now customers cannot digitally record public access shows, but AT&T is "looking at various options to address it," he said. Similarly, improvements to the image quality may be coming soon.

"There is a lower pixelation, which is one of the areas we're working on," Peterson said.

He noted that AT&T has already addressed the closed captioning problem by offering open captioning - the constant streaming of text across the screen.

Without the option to turn off the text, De Anza students may have trouble seeing a graph or Power Point slide on screen, Folger countered.

Jessica Schafer, a spokeswoman for Markey, said the video providers promised after the hearing to "try and work out the pressing issues with local providers."

E-mail Kristina Peterson at

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