MI: Lansing must fix threat to public access

Posted on March 4, 2008 - 5:24pm.

from: Times Herald

Lansing must fix threat to public access
Flawed cable law paved way for transfer of community programs

No matter how Comcast tries to spin it, the cable provider's efforts to move some of its channels to a higher digital tier runs counter to the interests of many viewers. More important, state lawmakers bear responsibility for making it easier for Comcast to change its programming.

Adopted in December 2006, Michigan's "Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act" was supposed to promote greater competition within the state's cable TV industry. Instead, the new law relaxed cable providers' commitment to public service programming.

Lansing must correct that error.

Comcast's attempt to transfer community-access channels to the more costly digital tier clearly harmed hundreds of thousands of subscribers who depend on the programming to view local government meetings and community events. Although two lawsuits resulted in restraining orders against that change, the company still is moving one channel from standard cable to digital.

Effective March 27, Channel 900, the simulcast of public access standard-definition Channel 12, will move to digital Channel 901. The announcement said programming available on Channel 12 will remain there for now. That could change depending on how the suits opposing the transfer of public, educational and government channels are settled.

Proposed state legislation promises to hold cable providers to a higher standard. State Reps. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, and Steve Bieda, D-Warren, could introduce a bill in the state House of Representatives this week that would prevent Comcast from transferring public-access programming to 900 channels.

Federal law requires all TV stations and cable providers to switch from analog to digital signals by 2009. Comcast's attempt to move public-access programming more than a year ahead of time is a disservice to communities throughout the state.

The new bill may not offer a permanent solution, but at least it requires Comcast to honor its public service commitment in the short run. In any case, the digital switch still leaves the question of how low-income subscribers would be able to view public access programming.

Lansing would do well to enact requirements before next year's change to digital.

( categories: Comcast | MICHIGAN | State Franchises )