WI: Cable access channels threatened by proposed legislation

Posted on April 6, 2007 - 7:07pm.

from: Hudson Star-Observer

Cable access channels threatened by proposed legislation, leaders say

Randy Hanson Hudson Star-Observer
Published Friday, April 06, 2007

Hudson/North Hudson Community Access Television has made great strides in the quality and quantity of its programming in recent years, its leaders say. But now all of that progress is threatened by proposed legislation that would reduce funding for local cable access channels and increase their costs.

“I’d really like to stress that Channel 15 is in danger from the Wisconsin legislation,” Cable Access Manager Nate Skoog said last Thursday.

The goal of the bill is to increase competition in the cable TV market by allowing phone companies like AT&T and Verizon to enter it.

The problem with the legislation as it is currently proposed, according to Skoog and Kelly, is that it would reduce the fees cable providers pay to support local cable access channels.

Hudson/North Hudson Community Access Television currently gets 5 percent of the money subscribers pay to Comcast for cable service. The revenue will support a 2007 operating budget of approximately $108,000 for community access Channel 15 and education Channel 6.

An additional 75-cent monthly PEG (pubic, education, government) fee paid by subscribers provides funds for equipment purchases.

The PEG fee would disappear under the proposed Montgomery-Plale bill. Opponents of the bill estimate that franchise fee revenue would decrease 15 to 20 percent because less of the cable providers’ income would be subject to the 5 percent fee.

On top of that, cable access stations would have to lease transmission lines and related equipment from cable companies.

The Wisconsin Association of PEG Channels estimates that the net effect for Hudson/North Hudson Community Access Television is that it would have to come up with $114,6000 annually to maintain its current level of service.

“Many stations will close their doors if it passes,” Skoog said.

He is asking cable subscribers to contact State Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, and State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, and tell the legislators they oppose the Montgomery-Plale bill.

Local programming

The threat to Hudson’s cable access channels couldn’t come at a worse time, as far as Skoog and Kelly are concerned.

Channel 15’s cablecasts of Hudson City Council, North Hudson Village Board, St. Croix County Board and Hudson School Board meetings appear to be attracting more viewers than ever, judging from the feedback elected officials get.

At a recent City Council meeting, Hudson Mayor Jack Breault gave an unsolicited testimonial for the channel, assuring council members that people were watching and that they could expect to hear from them on the controversial dike River Walk topic the council was debating.

The station has installed permanent cameras in the City Council chambers, the North Hudson Village Board room and the County Board room to cover the proceedings there. It airs the meetings live and records them for later rebroadcast.

The Hudson and North Hudson Plan Commission meetings also are cablecast –- and coverage of the Hudson Park Board was added recently in response to the controversy over the proposed construction of a picnic shelter at the end of the dike road.

“If people call up and request, we’ll see if we can cover it,” Skoog said. “We try to fit it in. If we think it’s important to the community, we’ll try to fit it in.”

Past City Council, Village Board and School Board meetings also can now be viewed at any time through the magic of video streaming on the cable access channel’s Web site, www.accesstv15.com.

“Our goal is to have open government, and have it out there so people can see it,” Skoog said. He likens Channel 15 to a local C-SPAN.

The recent City Council candidates’ forum sponsored by the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce is another example of the type of local government programming the community access channel brings to viewers.

Skoog explained that Channel 15 is what is termed a community access channel because it creates much of the programming. But there is also a public access component to the channel. People are allowed to borrow the equipment and create their own shows at no cost to them –- other than their time.

Dick Shager’s “Power News” is an example of that type of public access programming. His shows are produced in Channel 15’s basement studio in the Hudson Municipal Building at 911 Fourth St.

“Power News” correspondent Jamie Johnson interviews experts on legal issues, Maureen Ash talks about agriculture and land use, Bobbi Pominville covers the arts, Bernie Hesse addresses labor issues, Dr. Steve Adorn tackles health topics and various local clergypersons discuss faith.

“I feel that all news is local, and all politics is local. What’s really important is what happens right here in this neighborhood,” says Shager, the producer of the show.

“Power News” is seen beyond the neighborhood, however. It appears on cable access channels in River Falls and Baldwin, as well as on channels in Wisconsin cities as large as Madison. Shager says the program can be viewed in more than 100,000 homes around the state.

Local church services and high school sporting events also come to the viewers courtesy of volunteers who learn to use the cable access station’s equipment.

“I trained all those people to do it. They learned,” Skoog said of the volunteer camera persons and program editors. “It’s real grassroots. It starts from just having an idea.”

Non-commercial, satellite programming dominates the channel’s daytime schedule. It includes the popular English-language Deutsche Welle show from Germany (described as a German CNN), Classic Art Showcase, NASA news and the new “UFOs and the Paranormal.”

Skoog said the cable access board is thinking about adding the Pentagon channel for an hour or two a day.

A seven-member board oversees the cable access station’s operations. The city of Hudson and village of North Hudson each has three representatives. The school district has one.

The members, in addition to Kelly, are Sandra Whalen, Jerry Panning, Nancy Toll, Mary Krueger, Elizabeth McCormick and Carah Koch. Koch, who represents the Hudson City Council, will soon be leaving the board because she did not seek re-election to the council.

While much of the Channel 6 education programming is provided by Hudson High School, it also operates under the auspices of Hudson/North Hudson Community Access Television. Kelly notes that it also is available to Hudson’s parochial schools.

To learn more about the community access channels, including how to get a program on the cable, go to www.accesstv15.com.

( categories: State Franchises | WISCONSIN )