Friday, March 16, 2007

Georgia On My Mind, Ohio In The Cross-Hair

One week ago I was at a NATOA legal seminar in Alexandria listening to a panel talk about recent statewide franchising laws and proposed statewide franchising laws.

The moderator of that panel was Lou Comer from the Georgia Municipal Association. Being aware of Georgia legislation that was pending, but not terribly certain of the details, I asked Ms. Comer to elaborate on the provisions for Public, Educational and Government access television. Particularly regarding what I had heard was a phase out provision for PEG funding by 2012.

Ms. Comer said that they, the Georgia Municipal Association, had sat down with cities, towns and counties, and those cities, towns and counties were not interested in PEG. I found that somewhat surprising given that in Georgia there is very little P and mostly G. T’would seem that the cities, towns and counties would, at the very least, be self-interested enough to make sure their own government channels were funded.

Comer further verified what I had heard, that indeed the funding would be eliminated by 2012.

I asked where the Georgia Municipal Association stood on the legislation and she said they supported it.

As I stepped away from the microphone and sat down, I realized that a few of my compatriots were spitting up their cappuccinos, and one even had tears running down her face. Not because she was sad but because she was laughing so hard. I guess my questions had inadvertently (or advertently…is that a word?) outed the Georgia Municipal Association for the slimey, squirrelly, double dealing dogs that they really are.


Not at all when one considers that the GMA has figured how to get their hands in the pie. Seems they got written into the legislation a wee provision that they will do the financial audits of the cable companies, for a fee, of course.

Having run nonprofits for many years I am not against creating a non-dues revenue stream, but I really think you should try to do it without being underhanded, and certainly not at the expense of democracy.

Thankfully, the City of Atlanta has come out against the bill, so I guess there’s at least one city, town or county, that thinks PEG is important.

I can’t be one hundred percent sure that the Georgia legislation could ever trump the Ohio legislation that has just been introduced for terms which will gut PEG. In that one, no muni over 50,000 population can get more than three channels and they better be darn sure they are using them the way the video provider tells them to or they’ll get taken away. Twelve hours per day of programming must be shown and no more than eighty percent of it can be repeated or imported.

Does anybody have any idea how much money most access centers have in their budgets? When I was at the Alliance I realized that over one third of our membership were operating television stations on $100,000 or less per year. How can a small center with minimal means produce almost 3,500 hours of new programming each year? And they certainly won’t be able to meet that given that all PEG support will be gone…not some…ALL.

Will anybody stand up and tell at&t (you know they wrote this) and Verizon, that it’s none of their damn business what programming does or does not get shown on PEG? Or if they insist that it is, then we insist they take “Wife Swap” off the air.

Add to that, Ohio suggests that PEG doesn’t even have to be carried on the Basic tier. And, if a provider distributes content through a single head end or “video hub” to a service area that contains multiple municipalities, they only have to provide three channels total, to that entire service area. That tidbit is certainly at&t’s handiwork.

I would go into the definition of gross receipts found in the Ohio bill but I don’t have enough Maalox on hand right now.

I did a tv interview the other day for a public access station. I was talking about some of the things that have been happening and even talking about consumer rights. The woman who was interviewed before me was the director of the library system and she was able to emphasize internet services at the library. Three young men who interviewed after me were discussing how difficult it can be to be a teenager and be gay. The producer who does the show lines up people all on one day and is able to do about eight shows in a row, on every topic imaginable. Many of the topics have actual value in real life applications and as information.

I’ve seen access shows on Lupus, accessibility devices for the elderly, how to lodge a complaint at the board for licensing contractors, the history of the “Arrabers” in Baltimore, general around town kinds of what’s happening out there, when it’s time to get a lawyer, what you should look for in real estate, romance among people with disabilities, fire prevention and safety, lots and lots of second language programming, black men who aren’t thugs and crooks, etc., etc., etc.

But these are not things the Georgia Municipal Association gives a hoot about nor do those knuckleheads in the Ohio legislature who introduced that bill written just for them by their good buddies at Ma Bell. And why should they? There’s plenty of money to be made, it just won’t be made by the municipalities and it certainly won't be seen by the PEG's.

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