Columbia Access Television requests funding from council

Supporters of the station appealed to the City Council to include money for it in the budget for 2008.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007 | 8:22 p.m. CDT; updated 11:26 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — With less than $6,000 left to survive on, Columbia Access Television is in dire need of money and could face extinction if the Columbia City Council doesn’t help soon.

At Monday’s council meeting, Columbia Access Television supporters who say they are uncertain about continued financial support from local cable provider Mediacom, appealed to the council to include money for their group in the budget for 2008.

Mediacom has provided CAT with $30,000 a year since October 2004. This year, however, it has fallen $10,000 behind. Mediacom was renegotiating its franchise agreement with the city in the spring when the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation giving cable and telephone companies the option to negotiate with the state instead of individual cities. Under Senate Bill 284, cable and telephone providers can also pass on to customers any costs associated with public access channels.

Mediacom announced in May that it would begin negotiating through the state and has since failed to make its scheduled $10,000 contribution, CAT representatives say. Members of the Cable Task Force, appointed by the City Council in December 2003, agree.

“They just quit participating when the law allowed them to,” task force chairman Marty Riback said.

Even as CAT supporters lobby the council for money in the budget, the task force is proposing that the city raise the franchise fee it charges cable companies from 3 percent to 5 percent to provide CAT with more money. That increase would generate an extra $260,000 in 2008 and about $330,000 more in subsequent years, according to a report to the council written by city attorney Fred Boeckmann.

Christine Gardener, CAT-TV board president, said CAT supporters are trying to appeal to the council to be placed on the 2008 budget because they are unsure if the increase will help them.

CAT started six years ago with an idea that the public can get involved in its own broadcasting by writing, producing and editing its own content. It has become a center for technology classes and practice for more than 300 residents. But without the proper funding, CAT’s ideas for expansion into various aspects of technology could end in a matter of months.

“We’re not even able to hold the classes and trainings that people want to attend,“ said Gardener.

As part of their plea, more than 25 CAT members attended the Monday council meeting and plan to attend the Sept. 4 meeting in support of being added to the budget.

“Hopefully, the City Council will see there is a community with the station, and hopefully that will help them make the right decision,” CAT editor Chase Thompson said.

Without the addition to the 2008 budget or an increased franchise fee, now known under state law as a video service provider fee, CAT will be forced to shut down, Riback said.

“In the past when we’ve asked them to increase, they haven’t. But that was when they still believed the cable companies would step up,” Riback said. “In the long haul, I’m hoping the city will fund CAT Channel 3 now that the cable companies have bowed out.”

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