We have to fight for our right to produce community television
By Joe VanderMeulen 11/2/09
Once again, the value and viability of public access television in the Grand Traverse region and much of Michigan is threatened. This time, we face the hungry giant of a national corporation.
Having decided that it needs the band width and channel designations held by our community for nearly 15-plus years, Charter Communications, Inc. will banish /public access television (Up North 2) to the farthest reaches of the cable system. In fact, all of our public, education and government (or PEG) access channels will be given the highest number designations available in both the analog format (90s) and digital format (990s).
Charter Inc., the national internet/phone/cable corporation, is in a battle with other television content providers, including satellite and Internet delivery systems. At the same time, Charter is trying to come out of bankruptcy, after shedding hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while retaining hundreds of millions for its owners. To stay competitive and get geared up for the Christmas marketing season, Charter will soon shut down the analog television signals found at cable channels 2 and 13 and take that band width to create new digital channels.
Since analog signals require much more cable band width (i.e., carrying capacity), shutting down analog channels will allow Charter to deliver many more digital video channels. They point out that every company is being pushed to switch to digital anyway.
More video capacity sounds like a good idea. Cable subscribers across our region would surely appreciate a little better service and more options for television viewing. But what will happen to the only television stations entirely dedicated to the community itself? Charter plans to segregate the PEG channels and put them as far away from the money-making channels as it can. Lots of citizens in northwest lower Michigan are asking: Why?
Why not put publicly-generated community television the PEG television stations in the same grouping of channels as other local content providers, the local affiliates of NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and PBS? Dont viewers go to those channel locations to find local news, features, weather and the coverage of local events? Why wont Charter celebrate the many facets of our community? Why dont they recognize how much we all care about local issues and events here in the Grand Traverse region and northwest lower Michigan?
Maybe the answer is quite simple. Maybe Charter cares more about money and markets. Charter would rather shove our community access television stations aside than risk the possibility of NOT gaining one more shopping channel.
To be sure, television produced and sponsored by the public, our educational institutions, and our local governments is not a money-making venture. There are no commercials or sales on public access television. Apparently, Charter has no respect or regard for the video productions of our citizens, nonprofit groups, or local governments.
But the truth is, Charter is forced to provide our community with access to cable channels under state and federal law. Thats because Charter built most of its cable distribution system on public right-of-ways: land owned by the citizens and managed by local governments. In that regard, Charter is no different than any other big corporation that uses public resources to make money.
We recognize that cable corporations claim a legal right to assign the channel numbers to the content it delivers. Charter says it can destroy all of the communitys investments in the brand of Up North 2 whenever it wishes. We also recognize that delivering television content in digital formats is more efficient than analog. We are not asking this corporation to make big sacrifices. We are simply asking Charter Communications, Inc. to do well by the people of our community, to be good corporate citizens. We are asking to put our PEG channels where viewers can find them easily and come across them as they surf the channels.
We ask to have the PEG channels treated like other community content providers. We ask this massive corporation to keep PEG channels within our community, not send them to some digital Siberia.
For more information, visit: www.savePEGTV.org
Joe VanderMeulen is the executive director of LIAA, a non-profit service organization dedicated to helping people shape better communities through participation, education, information and the effective use of technology. LIAA houses Up North 2, Traverse Citys public access television station, serving residents of northwest Michigan.