Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fayette to lose two to three free cable channels? Local control further eroded?

If, and that’s a pretty good size “if,” I’m reading House Bill 227 correctly, Fayette County will lose 2, possibly 3, of its five free television stations. Currently Comcast provides the County with five public access stations. Each city, Tyrone, Fayetteville, Peachtree City, the County and the Board of Education have their own station channel. They post public service information and items of interest to citizens.

House Bill 227 decreases the number of stations to three for large governments, two for smaller governments. I’m not sure where Fayette County might fall in the large vs. small area.

The bill also takes the local governments out of the loop entirely. The Secretary of State’s office rather than your county or city government will decide the cable company for your home.

Currently, Comcast negotiates with the local government to get the local franchise. In our county each of the cities, the Board of Education and the County were each given a station as part of the agreement they negotiated. This bill gives the cable company chosen by the state total control over the station content, and the number of stations awarded. They can choose whether they even want to provide service for your area. Current agreements regarding public service channels would be nullified no later than 2012.

HB 227 is being touted as the way to decrease cable bills. According to the hype Georgians will get more cable TV programming at a lower price.

I’ve seen the commercials on television encouraging voters to support HB 227. I had wondered why the cable companies weren’t fighting back with a commercials saying NO, don’t clip our wings.

According to the Southern Media Justice Coalition, the reason they’re not fighting back is because they WANT this bill. It’s theirs. I’ll let you read their release (link below) if you’d like to know more about what they have to say.

I have heard through the grapevine (2nd and 3rd hand-me-down comments, so I don’t take ‘em as gospel) that cable reps are already out pre-selling ideas for the stations they’re going to get back from the local governments.

Here’s a little bit of background information… Comcast has been trying to get the County and cities to give up all but one of their stations for some time (at least a year). They want to put local information on the television station, make it interesting. They want to sell your company a spot on the station to advertise your restaurant, shoe shop, grocery store, etc. They pocket the money. It could be huge money, too. Just check out how much it costs to do a 30 second commercial! Chances are prices would be more reasonable, but it’s still 24/7 programming with the cable company getting all the dollars.

They wanted the County and cities to voluntarily give one up. They didn’t want to pay anything for the station. They weren’t willing to even give a small percentage of the revenues they’d earn back to the government. Wouldn’t it have been nice to get 10% or 20% of the revenue to potentially lower your taxes?

Now it looks like they’re going to get not just one, but up to three stations. Smart folks that they are, they’re not touching the station allotted to the Board of Education across the state. If they tried to take that one away they’d have a real fight on their hands and maybe the real story would get out.

According to Senator David Shafer (R – Duluth), the governments would be able to “negotiate” with the cable companies to add stations. What a deal. If the cable companies will realize substantial profits from the stations, how much money will they want from local governments to give up the cash cow?

Some governments utilize their free stations well. They broadcast their meetings, present small shows and showcase community events. Locally the Board of Education is now doing ten and fifteen minute video productions that air on the station. We’re just getting good at using our stations here in the county. Now they may be taken away.

I urge everyone to get the facts. The commercial on television plays to our greed. The hype plays to our greed (and our well-known aggravation with cable monopolies). However, are they playing us, leading us, selling us a bill of goods that just ain’t so?

Read the article from the Southern Media Justice Coalition, 4/4/07 Statewide Cable Internet Franchising: A Bad Deal For Georgia. Then click on some of the links listed after the article. Decide for yourself, then contact your state representatives. They’re voting on it next week after spring break, and it looks like it’s going to pass. Chances are at this late date there’s not much any of us can do because the word hasn’t gotten out. I thought it was a good thing based on the few articles I’d read. Now I’m not so sure.

No comments: