Public channel moves closer to reality

With City Council approval, a Mediacom-sponsored studio could open soon.
Tuesday, September 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:41 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Mediacom, Columbia’s largest cable television provider, will send a proposal to the Columbia City Council this week that would establish studio access and equipment for a new public-access channel.

If the city approvesthe proposal, the studio could be set up pretty quickly, said Gary Baugh, director of operations for Mediacom.

For almost two years, the Columbia Media and Resource Alliance has been fighting for access to a studio and equipment to air public-access programming, a requirement of the city’s franchise agreement with Mediacom.

Beth Federici, president of the board of directors for CMRA, was skeptical Mediacom would have a proposal by next week.

“We have been told in the past that they were going to meet the deadline, and two times we have waited and not seen that happen,” Federici said. “... (But) we would love to see things move full steam ahead.”

Baugh said Mediacom plans to provide broadcast quality equipment, and there is a “good possibility” CMRA could run the channel. Mediacom, however, will look into hiring people.

“That is something we still need to work out,” Baugh said. “We will find people with expertise to run it. They won’t necessarily be hired by Mediacom, but it is a possibility.”

CMRA has already started collecting documentaries, music videos, short narrative pieces and other programs and is confident it could air them immediately.

Mediacom’s expected proposal comes after a city council decision Tuesday night to form a seven-member cable television task force that would deal with franchise renewal issues and complaints about cable service.

Rex Campbell, a former council and Cable Committee member, praised the decision to form the task force.

“This is an opportunity for the council to put pressure on the cable company because they are wanting to redo their franchise,” Campbell said. “Otherwise they won’t listen to you very much if you don’t have some kind of a lever to work with.”

A resolution to officially create the task force will be presented to the City Council at its next meeting. If approved, Mayor Darwin Hindman would appoint its members.

Representatives of the CMRA and other Columbia groups are eager to take part in the task force.

“We’ve already shown our dedication to this issue and have done a great amount of research,” Federici said. “We have access to a lot of good research material to assist the task force and advise them. We have the energy and the passion that it takes to put in the time and to have an influence on future decisions.”

Residents of Paquin Tower and Oak Towers receive free cable under Mediacom’s current franchise agreement, a service that could be in jeopardy after the renewal of the agreement. Doris Chiles, executive director of the Columbia Housing Authority, expects some residents of those apartments would be interested in joining the task force to be a part of the renewal process.

In a memo to the council, City Manager Ray Beck said the task force should be temporary.

“It is likely that after the franchise renewal process is completed and the public access channel is established, a cable television commission will have little to do,” he wrote.

Federici disagrees.

“We need people to stay on top of the whole cable issue in the long run, and the city staff has a lot on their plate already,” she said. “It is important that you’ve got people who will give it the time and attention that it deserves.”

Mediacom’s franchise agreement expires in 2006. Negotiations for renewal will begin this fall.

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