Cable task force OKs fee increase

Some already are producing shows for the public-access channel.
Friday, June 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:35 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Cable television subscribers will see their monthly bills rise to pay for a public-access cable channel if the Columbia City Council follows through on a Thursday night recommendation from a city task force.

Meanwhile, a nonprofit board, Columbia Access Television Corp., has been set up to oversee development of the public-access outlet, which will be broadcast on Channel 8 for Mediacom cable subscribers and Channel 21 for Charter Communications subscribers. The board includes members of the Columbia Media Resource Alliance, representatives of Stephens College and other interested stakeholders.

At its Thursday night meeting, the Cable Television Task Force voted 5-0, with two members absent, to recommend the city council boost the cable franchise fee to 5 percent, up from its current rate of 3 percent. The matter had been tabled at the group’s April and May meetings.

The franchise fee is paid by Mediacom and Charter Communications subscribers and then relayed to the city by the cable companies.

The average monthly bill for Mediacom cable service is $62, said Gary Baugh, area director of operations for Mediacom. A 2 percentage point increase would boost the average franchise fee from $1.86 to $3.10.

Baugh said the increase might arouse concern among subscribers. “Rate increases are never popular,” he said. “We’ll get some calls, and the city will get some calls, too.”

Beth Federici, who resigned from the media resource alliance to become president of the new board, known as CATCORP, said the city’s task force and media resource alliance decided it would “be better for a new nonprofit organization whose only mission was to oversee the public-access station” to establish the station.

Federici said that Stephens College expects to finish setting up a studio for the new channel by July 1 and that her group hopes to hire a station director by August.

“The board will be continuing to meet over the summer to firm up the training and channel launch schedules,” she said.

Baugh said he is waiting for a list from CATCORP and Stephens College about supplies and equipment that would be needed. Mediacom and Charter Communications, which also has cable subscribers in Columbia, will be paying a total of $95,000 to get the channel up and running, Baugh said.

“We’ll fund what their budget is,” Baugh said. “As long as they stay within their budget.”

CATCORP presented the task force with a progress report Thursday night, stating that the group is forming committees and that the first priority is to hire a director. It also is developing an ad to place in employment recruitment outlets.

The report also mentioned that equipment needs are being investigated and that Mediacom and Charter Communications are accepting vouchers for purchases.

Excitement about the channel, which has been under discussion for months, continues to grow.

“I have a huge box of tapes from the past three years,” Federici said at the meeting. “People are very supportive if you’re starting up.”

On Tuesday, filming was under way at the Missouri Theatre for “Treebop,” a children’s variety show designed for the new channel.

Kim Sherman, who is planning to attend MU; Olivia Wyatt, an MU student and Missourian photographer; and Giavanna Accurso of Columbia College began talking in December about creating a children’s public access show and have been involved in planning and production since.

The show will include a play, music and demonstrations, as well as field reports by children in the community. “We took kids’ shows, like ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,’ ‘Bugaloos’ and ‘Chic-A-Go-Go,’ and we kind of formed our show around them,” Sherman said.

Sherman said an audience was needed for part of the filming, and children from Lee Elementary School filled that role Tuesday at the Missouri Theatre. During the taping, children danced and clapped along to the performance.

Sherman said the idea originated with the talk of public access in Columbia and an interest in children’s television.

“We decided to join forces,” Sherman said.

Federici said the efforts of these producers is “an indication of the interest and enthusiasm of public access. The channel isn’t even airing and already we have people producing programming.”

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