NC: Durham to pay for public access TV

Posted on March 4, 2008 - 8:44am.

from: News and Observer

Durham to pay for public access TV
A city-county pact with Time Warner Cable sets a price of $120,000 for 10 months' programs

Samiha Khanna, Staff Writer
DURHAM - City and county leaders agreed Monday to pay Time Warner Cable $120,000 over the next 10 months to air public access programs -- shows that used to be aired for free.

The city-county agreement came after more than a year of negotiation between the governments and Time Warner, and it will ensure that city and county government programming continues on cable Channel 8, which they share, and the schools continue to broadcast on cable Channel 4.

But the agreement doesn't address all local officials' grievances. Durham County officials have also filed a lawsuit seeking an additional channel, which they say they are entitled to for free under the law.

Both the issue of paying for public access, and the number of channels local governments can use for free, stem from recent changes to cable franchise laws.

In 2006, the legislature shifted cable franchising authority from local governments to the state government.

The transfer in responsibility has changed some of the services Time Warner is obligated to provide to governments, said Deputy City Manager Ted Voorhees.

Under a former local agreement with the city of Durham, Time Warner employees used to produce and air public access TV for free, Voorhees said.

Now that Time Warner's franchise is granted by the state, the company doesn't have to meet the requirements of individual contracts with cities and counties, Voorhees said.

Under the statewide franchise, Durham citizens will no longer be able to visit the cable company's local studios on East Club Boulevard to learn how to operate cameras and edit tape.

Local shows must now be produced independently and submitted to Time Warner to be reviewed, scheduled and aired.

The shift from local to state control has threatened to disrupt a Sunday morning tradition in Durham. For 17 years, a legion of church folk have tuned in to Channel 8 to watch sermons and other inspirational programming, said the Rev. James E. Vaughan, pastor at Abundant Life Assembly Church. For the ill or disabled, televised services, which also appear some mornings and evenings during the week, are a must.

"It's not just getting your congregation on," Vaughan said. "Shut-ins get to follow along services with their local congregation so they can continue to feel a part of it. It's kind of a big deal to them."

With the interlocal agreement passed Monday, it appears Vaughan and other clergy will be able to air their programming, at a cost to taxpayers of $12,000 a month.

The city and county can get state assistance to cover production equipment, Voorhees said, but a $25,000 grant would only make a dent in the $120,000 contract.

How many channels?

Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by Durham County seeks to expand access to the airwaves even further.

According to correspondence between Time Warner and Durham County over the past three weeks, it appears the two parties have different ways of interpreting the law.

Durham County officials said in a letter Feb. 19 that the county is entitled to two public channels strictly for county programs. Under the same law, cities with populations of more than 50,000 get three cable channels. That interpretation would give Durham five channels total. The county requested a response by Feb. 29.

On Feb. 29, Time Warner attorneys faxed a letter to the county saying the cable company is complying with the law. In a location such as Durham, where both city and county are served by the same Time Warner control center, the city and county must share access to channels, the letter said.

(Staff writer Matt Dees contributed to this report.)