Group urges council to reject public-access channel plan

Columbia Media Resource Alliance wants a long-term project, not ‘just a quick fix.’
Friday, October 10, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:44 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Columbia Media Resource Alliance is asking the Columbia City Council to reject Mediacom’s proposal for a public-access channel. The alliance calls the proposal “unacceptable.”

In a letter to the council, the alliance said Mediacom in its proposal has chosen to ignore many issues. The alliance also suggested a three-part plan of action to tackle the issue.

The plan calls for City Council to reject Mediacom’s proposal; the mayor to appoint members to the cable task for authorized by council last month; and for the city to use the services of a cable consulting firm for future franchise agreements.

“All three parts are important because they not only address the current franchise agreement but also ensure public access for Columbia in the future,” said Beth Federici, board president for the alliance.

Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash said the council will wait for its cable task force to “more thoroughly examine” the issue before making any decisions. Mediacom’s proposal to the council calls for Mediacom and Charter Communications to establish a public-access channel by hiring a full-time production supervisor, making use of a KMIZ/KQFX’s studio and charging user fees for studio, editing and air time.

Gary Baugh, director of operations for Mediacom, said public response to the proposal has been very positive.

“We have donated the channel space, which is a valuable asset, and we have made some very significant donations,” Baugh said. “This way the public will get much better resources and professional equipment.”

David Wilson, vice president of the alliance board of directors, protested Mediacom’s proposal at a council meeting Monday.

According to the alliance, the proposal from Mediacom sets limited hours for production and contains no provisions for training or management of the channel. It also fails to provide for immediate access to field production gear, the alliance said, “except for the hope of some equipment to be purchased in the future.”

“At this point, what we want to see is a strong foundation,” Wilson said. “We’re looking at this as a long-term project, not a quick fix. We want to create a structure, a base and an institution that will last in Columbia.”

In its letter to the council, the alliance gave examples of six model cities with public-access channels that charge no fees. In Dubuque, Iowa, for example, Mediacom provides two public-access channels for the public free of charge. It also provides free training, a studio in the Mediacom offices, a mobile production van, equipment and editing stations. Production crews for the channels are made up of volunteers.

Baugh said that although some cable companies don’t charge fees for use of public access, there are just as many that do.

“The funds have to come from some place,” Baugh said. “Nothing is free.”

The alliance is asking that the cable task force be in charge of selecting a third-party nonprofit group to operate the public-access channel.

Many members of the alliance are willing to serve on the task force, including Federici and Wilson.

“We have done a lot of leg work and would bring a huge amount of experience to it,” Wilson said. “We don’t want this to be the CMRA public-access station, but we do think that we are well-situated to provide educated consultation.”

Federici said the task force is critical to future franchise agreements.

“They need to lay out a specific plan for public access that is long-standing,” Federici said.

The alliance also is suggesting the city seek assistance from cable franchise consulting firms, such as the Buske Group, to help prepare future franchise agreements.

“We’re not just talking about the compliance issues around the current franchise agreement,” Federici said. “We want to make sure that we don’t run into any of these problems in the future.”

Mediacom’s franchise agreement expires in 2006.

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