GA: New arrangement nets city more money

Posted on March 25, 2008 - 7:12am.

from: The Reflector

New arrangement nets city more money

By T. Scott Batchelor
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 24, 2008

The city of Greenville is getting more money now that state — rather than local — government is franchiser for cable systems, local officials said.

Even so, there remains no permanent source of adequate funding for Greenville-Pitt County Public Access Television, an officer of the local nonprofit corporation said.

Cable operators such as Suddenlink once had to pay city and county governments 5 percent of revenue as a franchise fee for operating inside their jurisdictions.

Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, 2007, the secretary of state's office became the sole franchising authority, collecting revenues from a tax on video programming, home satellites and telecommunications.

In the previous arrangement, Suddenlink, formerly Cox Communications, paid the city directly. Greenville received about $170,406 the first quarter of 2006; $166,174 the second quarter; $164,665 the third quarter, and $173,567 the last quarter, City Manager Wayne Bowers said.

The first payment under the new scheme, made in March 2007, was $130,883.

"That's a pretty good drop," Bowers said. He panicked a bit, he said, because the N.C. League of Municipalities said the new plan would keep funding about the same.

He questioned the disbursement and was told the city didn't receive a full quarter's worth of allotment for reasons that weren't clear.

"They said be patient and wait until the next quarter," Bowers said.

"They were right," he said. In June 2007, the city received $189,723, which is "much more than we'd ever gotten from Suddenlink."

The payout for the quarter ending in September was $182,965, and in December, $190,693.

"It has come up, and we are getting more money," Bowers said.

Those figures don't include money allocated from the state formula for public, education and government access, or PEG, channels.

The state law taking over the cable franchise fees included $25,000 per PEG channel per year. Greenville runs a local government outlet, channel 9 on Suddenlink, and co-operates GPAT public-access on channel 23 and educational channel 13 with Pitt County's support.

Bowers said that should have totaled $75,000 annually for the city.

But officials "underestimated the number of PEG channels in the state," which cut the share of money for each channel.

The city gets about $5,500 for PEG programming each quarter.

According to the state Department of Revenue, the number of certified PEG channels is 276, which divide up $500,000 each quarter, or $2 million a year set aside from video funds collected by the state.

The statute states that the city's funds be used for PEG support, but doesn't specify how that money should be distributed among channels 9, 13 and 23, Bowers said.

Advocates for GPAT, which allows people to submit locally produced video programs, have long advocated for more money to be spent to operate that channel.

Bowers said the city "never gave them anything until two years ago," when the city struck a contract for $33,000 with the GPAT corporation.

"We're giving $33,000," he said. GPAT is entitled to another roughly $7,300, or one-third the total of about $22,000 in PEG money provided by the state annually, Bowers said.

Bowers said there is no line item in the budget for supporting GPAT, but he will recommend continuing the contract for $33,000.

The county kicks in half that amount, plus a portion of the $22,000 in PEG support money it receives from the state.

Frank Schenck, vice chairman of the GPAT board, said that total isn't enough to run the channel well.

"We've always said that we need approximately $100,000, because we have to hire two people to really run it properly," Schenck said.

There needs to be a better accounting of how many PEG channels there really are, he said. Schenck thinks the 276 cited by the state is too high.

Lowering the number would produce greater operating shares for channels from the roughly $500 million collected in video and other fees annually by the state, Schenck said.

PEG channels such as GPAT are important "because the public needs information, and that's what the federal law says, that you can have these channels to supply needed information to the (cable) subscribers, to the public," he said. "It's a public service."

T. Scott Batchelor can be contacted at and 329-9567.

( categories: GEORGIA | State Franchises )