TV task force hears public-access plans

Three groups have proposals for public-access television.

Sunday, February 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:54 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Columbia’s cable companies are promising to establish a “phase one” public-access cable channel within 60 days, but a city task force will continue evaluating three competing proposals for a permanent channel.

The “phase one” channel would air for a trial period before the city council would decide to construct a permanent studio, according to the proposal put before the task force.

Cable companies Mediacom Communications Corporation and Charter Communications Inc. made the promise at a Thursday meeting of the Columbia Cable Television Task Force. While the panel welcomed the action, members said they would continue reviewing three proposals: one from the cable firms and KMIZ/KQFX, one from the Columbia Media Resource Alliance and one from Stephens College.

“All the proposals have merit, “ task force chairman Kelvin Simmons said. “We need to distinguish what is in the best interest of Columbia.”

The cable companies’ plan calls for forming a partnership with KMIZ/ KQFX to house the studio and provide services. Under that proposal, the public would pay $80 an hour for studio time and $30 an hour for air time.

KMIZ/KQFX contacted the cable companies early last year about helping launch a public-access channel, said Randy Wright, the station’s general manager. The station would house the channel but would have no involvement with programming and would not profit from the arrangement.

Wright referred to the partnership’s plan as a “phase one” effort to prove the need for public-access programming to the Columbia City Council and the community and to provide a “solid foundation” for a future channel. If the need is demonstrated, he said, the channel could move to an independent location.

The Columbia Media Resource Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that has lobbied for a public-access channel for about two years, called the cable companies’ proposal “unacceptable” and submitted its own plan last fall, said alliance board president Beth Federici.

The alliance wants to establish a television studio at an independent location with free access to equipment six days and nights a week and would finance the channel through an increase in the franchise fees paid to the city by cable companies. A small annual membership fee, which could be waived in exchange for labor on public-access projects, would also be charged under the alliance plan.

Gary Baugh, general manager at Mediacom, said that while the alliance’s proposal would create a “first-class TV station,” it is “more of a wants list than a needs list.”

“It’s neat equipment, but what are the needs of the community we are trying to fulfill?” Baugh asked the task force.

The alliance has criticized the cable firms’ proposal, saying a partnership with a for-profit business such as KMIZ/KQFX would interfere with the public-access goal of providing “an unfettered voice — the freedom to speak — to members of the community.” It also cited concerns about limited studio access, the size of the studio and the proposed fees, Federici said.

“The KMIZ proposal is too much money for something that is going to outgrow itself very quickly,” Federici said.

Meanwhile, Stephens College has offered to house the public-access studio in its Helis Communication Center, which is the largest television station in mid-Missouri. School officials, believing the station is underused, said the school would rent the facility to a nonprofit group that would run the public-access channel independently.

While alliance and Stephens College representatives have talked, alliance members are now leaning toward creating their own studio elsewhere. The Parkade Center is one site they are considering. The cable task force will discuss the proposals more thoroughly at its March 4 meeting.

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