Activists Call for Public Access TV Provision in City's Cable Contract

Source: Baltimore Grassroots Media

The City and Comcast are finalizing a 12-year contract that, according to public access advocates, leaves the public without adequate funding for a channel of its own.
Activists seeking to assure that Baltimore City includes a provision for a public access TV channel in its upcoming contract renewal negotations with Comcast are staging a rally in front of City Hall on Wednesday, October 13 at 4 PM. The Baltimore City Council will hold a hearing on the proposed Comcast contract at 5 PM on the same day. At the hearing the city, Comcast and public access advocates will give presentations before the floor is opened for public comment.

Advocates are seeking, through this contract, to secure funding from Comcast for "non-commercial non-governmental, free speech TV, where we can create and show our own programs," according to a statement to the media from Baltimore Grassroots Media, which is organizing the rally.

The City's proposed contract currently does not provide any funding specifically for public access. The activists point out that cable contracts in some other cities provide millions of dollars for public access TV.

Baltimore City currently has an underfunded public access cable channel (channel 5), which broadcasts the League of Women Voters' City Council candidate forums. It also broadcasts the NPR radio show "Democracy Now!" and Baltimore's "ROCing 'D' VOTE voter education show. Local youth-produced programs and religious programs are also broadcast on channel 5, as well as concerts and art exhibits.

The contract currently proposed between the City and Comcast contains a provision for funding for Public, Education and Government Access (PEG). The City operates a Government Access (G) channel, which has a $1.1 million annual budget, and, following formalization of the new contract, will get to decide how the contract's PEG money is spent. City officials have indicated that most of this funding will be put toward the government channel.

The media activists point to other problems with the proposed contract. They say it reduces the number of channels available for public access and does not provide a percentage of digital bandwidth. Further, they say no "signal input point" is specified for the public access facility. Further, they point out that and the duration of the contract, though for 12 years as opposed to the 20-year term of the last contract between the City and its cable provider, is too long given the rapid changes in the cable industry.

See baltimoregrassrootsmedia.org or call 410-779-2184 for more detailed information. Contact City Council representatives by clicking here. Refer to the vote on the proposed Comcast contract (Bill 04-1504).

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This story was published on October 12, 2004.