For much of the Thursday night meeting of the Columbia Cable Television Task Force, there seemed to be a general feeling among the members that the issue of public access programming in Columbia was near completion.
Then task force member Marty Riback spoke up.
“I may have spaced out there for a little bit,” he said, “but everyone seems to think we’re so close to getting this thing done. It’s just that we have no organization, no money, no staff and half the equipment.”
While the task force discussed many ideas concerning the launching of public access television in Columbia, the group still isn’t close to realizing their visions for Channel 8, the proposed public access channel.
Setting up not-for-profit status for the station, something required by law for a public access station, remains a stumbling block. The first step in the process is establishing a three-member board — Stephens College and the Columbia Media Resource Alliance, a not-for-profit group itself, intend to present a list of board members at the task force’s next meeting on May 6.
The task force also butted heads on components of the revised budget proposal made by the cable company Mediacom. Task force members complained that several expected expenses had not been allotted funds, such as business supplies, telephone service and office furniture.
“There’s just a small amount of money available, and it needs to be spent wisely,” task force member Beth Federici said.
The revised budget calls for start-up costs of $59,500 for equipment, and $60,000 for a director’s salary for the station’s first two years. The task force could not agree on an exact budget and will revisit it during the next meeting.
A plan to raise the franchise fee paid by cable companies from 3 percent to 5 percent to meet the national average and help fund public access television — which would be effective in June, according to the proposal — was tabled for the next meeting.
Task force member Kent Collins voted against the increase, saying he didn’t know if Columbia residents were willing to pay a 2 percent increase on their monthly cable bills for public access programming.
The average cable subscription service bill from Mediacom in Columbia is around $45. The 2 percent increase would put the average bill at $45.90.