Tag: "television"

Posted June 30, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

We occasionally see big cable and phone companies getting creative in their efforts to shut down community networks. In socially conservative communities, restrictions on providing adult content is a common approach.

This technique came up several times in North Carolina, where TWC-sponsored elected officials proposed disallowing public providers from offering the same adult content channels that private providers offer. The reason has nothing to do with morals, but rather with the substantial revenue adult content generates. Incumbent providers know that if community networks cannot offer adult content to those who wish to purchase it, they will be deprived a significant source of revenue needed to pay the debt from building a modern network.

Bear in mind that no one is forced to see this content or even a scrambled channel (as was common in the "old" days). Community networks allow each family to decide for themselves what content is appropriate -- to the extent community networks differ from private providers in this regard, they provide more tools to filter out content that some may find inappropriate.

Last week, the Louisiana House briefly considered a bill to limit Lafayette's authority to make adult content available to subscribers that request it. House Bill 142 exists solely to put LUS Fiber, an impressive muni FTTH network, at a disadvantage.

John at Lafayette Pro Fiber has excellent coverage of the situation, with both an initial post featuring eyes-a-rollin' as well as an in depth followup "Lafayette delegation kills anti-LUS bill."

LUS Fiber Logo

The latter is essential reading for those new to understanding how any legislature works. And anyone building a network that will compete with big companies like AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, et al. had better know how legislatures work because those companies live in the Leg. Their...

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Posted January 13, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The trend of more people subscribing to broadband as well as cable incumbents (also AT&T with U-Verse) wage war on local public access television stations, some have been questioning whether we even need PEG channels on the television anymore. We do. If anything, the increase in capacity of networks should translate into greater opportunities for local shows to find a local audience.

Rob McCausland, a champion for community media, recently wrote about the the vast majority of communities that cablecast one or more public meetings - a trend that must be expanded.

Of the 254 largest cities cablecasting their government meetings, 197 of them (78%) do so on channels that they themselves manage. Nonprofit organizations manage those channels in 20 of those cities, while the cable companies manage them in 28.

These channels provide a crucial public service -- allowing the public to oversee their local government. If anything, we should not be considering decreasing access to this content, we should be finding ways to deliver it on-demand on the television. Ultimately, this programming should be available on all devices -- mobile, computer, television, and should be available as streaming and downloadable podcasts.

Posted January 6, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Frontier has been bitten by the same disadvantage many communities face when building their own networks -- little market power means having to overpay for everything. When Frontier bought millions of Verizon rural lines, it bought a few FiOS connections as well. But not enough to gain any bargaining power with channel owners. So Frontier had to raise the costs of its video services up for 46%. Lest anyone feel too sorry for Frontier, they are doing just fine. It is their customers who suffer. But it is a reminder that the issue of scale and market power are barriers to all competition, not just community networks. If we want to have real competition in this country, the Congress and the FCC need to stop ignoring the problems caused by massive players distorting the market. This unregulated market is an invitation for big players to join together and screw everyone else.

Posted November 19, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

When a debate between candidates for Wilson's sheriff proved too popular by far for the scheduled venue, Greenlight stepped in to televise it.

Jon Jimison, Wilson Times editor, said his phone has been ringing off the hook since the debate at Fike High School was announced. Fike holds a little more than 900 people. With the tickets snapped up on the first day of availability, televising the debate was what Jimison wanted.

"We're very happy the city and Greenlight are partnering with us on this event," Jimison said. "By having the debate aired on Greenlight it exponentially increases access to the debate so more residents can see it for themselves."

Greenlight is the community fiber network built by Wilson's public power company and is owned by the City.

Wilson is fortunate to have a publicly owned network able to step in and televise the network. In many towns, the incumbent is a private company that has little interest in helping out in such a situation. Thousands of towns do not even have a local cable presence they can call on if they were in this situation -- big carriers continuously consolidate and shut down local service centers to save money.

I recently visited Sibley County, Minnesota, where they are considering a publicly owned fiber-to-the-farm network. The programming they see on their TV comes from another state - Iowa! This is yet another reason communities should have networks that are directly accountable to them.

Posted October 25, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Fibrant has decided to offer premium adult content to subscribers that choose to receive it. Salisbury's approach and response offer a window into the benefits and responsibilities inherent in building a triple-play network that offers services directly.

As a gesture to those who are publicly opposed to such content being available, the channel listings do not show up to the subscriber by default -- which is to say that you cannot even see the scrambled channel unless you take action to tell Fibrant you would like the option of purchasing adult content.

The reason for offering the adult content? Much like the reason most community networks get involved in television at all: it helps pay the bills. The margins on premium content are high and competitors also offer these options locally.

However, a number of people are morally opposed to such content -- this has been a particularly sensitive issue in both Utah and the South more generally. Opponents to community networks generally take this opportunity to rally some opposition to the network in general.

Years ago, we wrote about a similar situation in Burlington, Vermont, because they carried the Al-Jazeera English international news channel.

The lesson we draw from these situations is that running a community fiber network is not all about creating economic development and educational opportunities. There are many issues that may be confronted, and some are messy First Amendment discussions. When a community takes responsibility for its future, it really has to take responsibility for its decisions.

When Comcast or Time Warner Cable chooses the channels, these problems may lurk under the radar because no one expects TWC or Comcast to take community needs or desires into account when they choose their channel lineup.

But when the network is owned locally and accountable to the public, the public has a voice in the decisions governing the network. Controversy on adult content on television may well subside over time, as few are actually proposing to censor the same content delivered via words, photos, and video over the Internet. The Salisbury Post editorialized a similar point:

While there’s no perfect choice here, there is this reality: Even if...

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Posted June 15, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Lafayette Utilities System has filed a complaint with the FCC following what seems to be a rather arbitrary decision by the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to deny Lafayette as a member. This is a crucial issue for communities that want to build fiber-optic networks, so we will dig in and offer an in-depth explanation.

It all starts with the business model. Fiber-optic networks are fantastically expensive and are expected to be financed entirely with revenues from subscribers. Though communities typically want fiber-optic networks for the broadband capacity, they find themselves having to offer cable television services also to ensure they will attract enough subscribers to make the debt payments on the network.

Unfortunately, cable television services are the most difficult and expensive part of the triple-play (broadband, telephone, cable tv). A community network has to sign deals with different content providers in order to put together its channel lineup. Even a community network with 100,000 subscribers has little power over the companies with channels like ESPN, the Disney Channel, Discovery, MTV, Food Network, and others. Thus, it will have to pay more for those channels than massive networks like Comcast that have many millions of subscribers and therefore a stronger negotiating position. LUS has noted that video programming is the "largest single on-going cost" it incurs in the network.

Enter the NCTC. By forming a cooperative, many small providers (public and private) were able to gain negotiating power over content owners and even hardware manufacturers to cut costs to members by buying in bulk. In recent years, the size of NCTC rivaled that of major national providers like Charter and Cox cable. All three parties stood to gain by bringing Cox and Charter into NCTC in 2009. The addition grew NCTC significantly -- only Comcast has more subscribers currently.

The advantages of NCTC are quite significant and worth reiterating because it is a reminder of the ways in which massive private companies have the playing field tilted in their direction. Without access to NCTC, communities have to pay more for the same content and equipment (NCTC savings may start at 15%-20%. From the complaint:

NCTC market power also enables it to obtain much bigger, better, more flexible, and less costly packages, than any individual small cable...

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Posted February 7, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this, because if it isn't in the proverbial weeds for the focus of this site, it is pretty close. But the merger between Comcast and NBC would be bad news for publicly owned networks.

Comcast is already a massive company that has huge advantages due to its scale. When a community served by Comcast decides it wants a network that puts the community first rather than the boardroom in Philadelphia, they have to compete with Comcast for customers. Comcast can cross-subsidize from its non-competitive markets, meaning it can offer its services at a loss in competitive communities, offering prices that a new network simply cannot beat while paying its bills.

The larger it gets and the more channels it owns, the more market power it has and the harder for competitors to get enough subscribers to stay in business.

Beyond publicly owned networks, the Comcast and NBC merger is bad for everyone who likes real choices in channels to watch and programming to consume. In these times of great creativity due to the openness of the web, it further constrains opportunities for independent content creators - as illustrated by two articles describing the sausage-making of creating a channel lineup: Comcast vs. the Tennis Channel and How Cable Programming is 'Chosen.'

Posted May 13, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Another aspect of RUC’s community focus is the fact that it provides customers with two local TV channels, in contrast to Charter, which offers none. In the wake of a Wisconsin law that removed requirements that cable operators provide financial support for PEG (public, educational and government) access channels, Rice says RUC is working on plans to continue operating its local channels, to make them more attractive and, in doing so, to further differentiate its service from Charter’s in terms of being responsive to the local community.

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