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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

YouTube and Cable

The rise of YouTube and other video content services have contributed a lot to the corpus of local communication. YouTube videos are cool to watch on your fast computer and broadband connection. I needed to explain to someone who Marian Anderson was, so I logged on to YouTube and in thirty seconds had her Lincoln Memorial performance running. That is a powerful assist to face to face communication that you cannot get with legacy television.

It is therefore a little too easy for a critic to discount access cable television by claiming that YouTube is a perfect replacement. This opinion seems to be most prevalent in cities that collect PEG funds but prefer not to share them with other legitimate stakeholders.

The problem with that claim is that it is intellectually dishonest. Consider this; access to YouTube in a comfortable mode, without stuttering requires a fast, (expensive), computer and a broadband, (expensive), connection. So, fewer people, and historically the people able to derive the greatest benefit from community television are shut out because of cost. Some people can't afford cable either but there are less of them.

YouTube and other Web entities do not subtract at all from the legacy television audience. San Jose State Business Professor Randall Stross points out that: "The video mode has been reinforced by the rise of YouTube. In December,[2009] almost 100 million viewers in the United States watched 5.9 billion YouTube videos, according to comScore. Tellingly, YouTube has not cannibalized TV viewership — it has instead carved out another chunk of our leisure time for video on a screen."

The answer here is not either/or but which is the best pathway to larger distribution. YouTube movies generally make for poor cable television programs. But programs produced by trained, skilled local citizen communicators for cable transmission sure do look good on YouTube and the other dozen or so venues. So when the YouTube dodge is invoked remind that person that The idea is to feed both expressions, not one or the other.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hiatus is Over

This blog was basically abandoned in October 2009 because the values and ideas presented seemed no longer valid for Contra Costa County. The Access Contra Costa proposal for public and educational access management and rollout was dismissed in the usual way judicatories discourage petitioners-'thank you for providing substantive information but please come back and give us much more information so we can ask you for even more.' That charade had lasted three years and was a deal breaker for everyone involved. The Access Contra Costa applicants listened as a city official berated public access once again and, of course, invoking YouTube as a sufficient alternative to a public access television channel.

But times change and so do ways of creating public media. With this posting I wish to announce that The Martinez Lightworks is the newest community media center in Contra Costa County. At the start it will be privately held with myself as principal, and steadily build the basic components of a public/educational access facility. The first project is to create a flash studio, a one-person station where one can record a webinar, podcast, turn a slide presentation into a video or produce local promotional videos.

Income for the media center development will come from community media services performed professionally by the Martinez Lightworks.

The idea of a public service institution being a for-profit venture is very new to access television. However, one only has to look as far as Heald College or the Job Corps to see how privately held companies can provide excellent value for scarce dollars.

Just about every other path to a media center in Contra Costa County has collapsed, perhaps free enterprise might at last save the day. Please wish us luck folks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Bill Would Preserve Access Television

There is new legislation being proposed that would preserve and codify community access television. This is good news. Here is the text of the bill:

CAP Act (Introduced in House)
HR 3745 IH
111th CONGRESS 1st Session H. R. 3745
To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide for carriage and display of public, educational, and government channels in a manner consistent with commercial channels, and for other purposes.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
October 7, 2009

Ms. BALDWIN introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce

A BILL

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide for carriage and display of public, educational, and government channels in a manner consistent with commercial channels, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Community Access Preservation Act' or the `CAP Act'.

SEC. 2. AMENDMENTS.
(a) In General- Section 611 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 531) is amended--
(1) by redesignating subsection (f) as subsection (h); and
(2) by inserting after subsection (e) the following new subsections: `(f) Equivalence-
`(1) IN GENERAL- In the case of any franchise under which channel capacity is designated under subsection (b), such channel capacity shall be--
`(A) at least equivalent in quality, accessibility, functionality, and placement to--
`(i) channel capacity used for required carriage of local commercial television stations, as defined in section 614(h)(1); or `(ii) if no such stations are required to be carried, the channel capacity used to carry the primary signal of the network-affiliated commercial television stations carried on the cable system; and
`(B) provided to and viewable by every subscriber of a cable
system without additional service or equipment charges. `(2) SIGNAL QUALITY AND CONTENT- A cable operator shall--
`(A) carry signals for public, educational, or governmental use from the point of origin of such signals to subscribers without material degradation and without altering or removing content provided as part of the public, educational, or governmental use; and
`(B) provide facilities adequate to fulfill such requirements. `(3) WAIVER- The requirements of paragraph (1) may be waived by a franchising authority if the franchise contains an explicit provision that such requirements shall not apply and such provision was adopted after a proceeding the conduct of which afforded the public adequate notice and an opportunity to participate. `(4) ENFORCEMENT- The requirements of this subsection may be enforced by a franchising authority or by the Commission. `(5) ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this subsection prevents a franchising authority from establishing additional requirements with respect to the quality, accessibility, functionality, placement, and provision of channel capacity designated for public, educational, or governmental use.
`(g) Preservation of Public, Educational, and Governmental Use- `(1) STUDY- Within 180 days after the date of enactment of the Community Access Preservation Act, the Commission shall submit to Congress a report containing--
`(A) an analysis of the impact of the enactment of State video service franchising laws since 2005 on public, educational, and governmental use of cable systems; `(B) an analysis of the impact of the conversion from analog to digital transmission technologies on public, educational, and governmental use of cable systems; and
`(C) recommendations for changes required to this Act to preserve and advance localism and public, educational, and governmental use of advanced communications systems.
`(2) SUPPORT- In States that adopted legislation affecting cable system franchising requirements relating to support for public, educational, or governmental use of a cable system that became effective after May 31, 2005, a cable operator shall, notwithstanding such legislation--
`(A) pay to any political subdivision in which the operator provides service the greater of--
`(i) the historical support that the operator, or its predecessor, provided for public, educational, or governmental use of the cable system in such subdivision in accordance with this subsection; or
`(ii) the amount of any cash payment that the operator is required to pay to such subdivision under such State legislation affecting cable system franchising requirements;
`(B) carry signals for public, educational, or governmental use from the point of origin of such signals to subscribers and provide facilities adequate to fulfill such requirements in accordance with subsection (f)(2); and `(C) provide at least the number of channels for public, educational, or governmental use that it was providing as of May 31, 2005.
`(3) CALCULATION OF HISTORICAL SUPPORT- Historical support includes the value of all support provided for public, educational, or governmental use, including in-kind support and free services. The cable operator shall pay support equal to the greater of--
`(A) the value of the support provided in the most recent calendar year prior to the effective date of such State legislation affecting cable system franchising requirements; or `(B) the value of the annual average support provided over the term of the franchise pursuant to which it operated prior to such effective date, taking into account the time value of money.
`(4) PAYMENTS- The amounts owed to the political subdivision under paragraph (2)(A) shall be paid annually, in quarterly installments, with the first payment being due 30 days after the date of enactment of the Community Access Preservation Act.
`(5) USES; DISPUTES- `(A) USES- Support provided to any State or local political subdivision under this subsection shall be dedicated to public, educational, or governmental use of channel capacity. `(B) DISPUTES- If there is a dispute as to amounts owed under this subsection, undisputed amounts shall be paid, and the Commission shall determine on an expedited basis what, if any, additional amounts are owed.'.
(b) Franchise Fee Definition- Section 622(g)(2) of such Act (47 U.S.C. 542(g)(2)) is amended--
(1) in subparagraph (B), by striking `in the case of any franchise in effect on the date of the enactment of this title,'; (2) by striking subparagraph (C); and (3) by redesignating subparagraphs (D) and (E) as subparagraphs (C) and (D), respectively.
(c) Cable Service Definition- Section 602(6) of such Act (47 U.S.C. 522(6)) is amended by striking `means' and inserting `means, regardless of the technology or transmission protocol used in the provision of service'.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Comcast East Bay PEG Cable Lineup

This post is primarily for future reference. It is a list of communities with Comcast cable franchises and their local channels. Some of these franchises are organized under the Statewide Franchise Law (DIVCA) and others are local agreements worked out with local cities: (this list is courtesy of Cheryl Chambers, Government Affairs Rep. for Comcast):

Alameda DIVCA

15 Government Access

27 Peralta College

28 The Alameda Channel

Alameda Ct/San Lorenzo/Unincorporated DIVCA

15 Government Access

27 Chabot College

28 Local Programming (M-F 3:45PM – 9:00AM)(S-S 24 HRS)

Alamo /Concord LOCAL Danville - DIVCA

24 Leased Access

26 Local Programming excluding Concord

27 CCTV

28 Govt Access (Concord)

32 Educational Access

Albany DIVCA

24 Educational Access

27 Contra Costa TV

28 KCRT (Local Govt)

33 KALB (Albany)

Antioch DIVCA

27 CCTV

32 Educational Access

Berkeley/Hercules DIVCA

24 Educational Access

26 Leased Access/Bay Vison East

27 CCTV (Hercules/Parlata College (Berkeley)

28 BTV Access (Berkeley)/HCTV (Hercules)

33 Public access (Berkeley)

Brentwood LOCAL

27 CCTV

32 Educational Access


Clayton LOCAL

24 Leased Access

26 Local Programming excluding Concord

27 CCTV

28 Govt Access (Concord)

32 Educational Access

Contra Costa/Castro Valley LOCAL

26 Community Programming

Dublin DIVCA

26 Community Programming

27 Contra Costa TV

28 Community Programming

29 Community Programming

30 Community Programming

Emeryville LOCAL

10 KTOP – Government Access

27 Emeryville City Channel

28 Peralta College

Fremont DIVCA

26 Fremont USD

27 Government Access

28 Ohlone TV

29 Community Access

Hayward DIVCA

15 Government Access

27 Chabot College

28 Local Programming (M-F 3:45PM – 9:00AM)(S-S 24 HRS)

Lafayette LOCAL

24 Local Programming

26 Local Programming

27 CCTV

28 Rossmoor TV (Rossmoor Only)/Local Programming (all other cities)

32 Educational Access


Livermore LOCAL

26 Community Programming

27 Contra Costa TV

28 Community Programming

29 Community Programming

30 Community Programming

Martinez LOCAL

24 Leased Access

26 Local Programming excluding Concord

27 CCTV

28 Govt Access (Concord)

32 Educational Access

Moraga LOCAL

24 Local Programming

26 Local Programming

27 CCTV

28 Rossmoor TV (Rossmoor Only)/Local Programming (all other cities)

32 Educational Access

Newark DIVCA

26 Government Access

27 Public Access

28 Educational Access

Oakland LOCAL

10 KTOP – Govt Access

27 KDOL

28 Peralta College

Oakley DIVCA

27 CCTV

32 Educational Access


Orinda DIVCA

24 Local Programming

26 Local Programming

27 CCTV

28 Rossmoor TV (Rossmoor Only)/Local Programming (all other cities)

32 Educational Access

Piedmont LOCAL

10 KTOP – Govt Access

27 KCOM

28 Peralta College

Pinole DIVCA

26 Leased/Local Access

27 CCTV

28 PEG Access

33 Educational Access

Pittsburg LOCAL

27 CCTV

32 Educational Access

Pleasant Hill LOCAL

24 Local Programming

26 Local Programming

27 CCTV

28 Rossmoor TV (Rossmoor Only)/Local Programming (all other cities)

32 Educational Access

Pleasanton LOCAL

26 Community Programming

27 Contra Costa TV

28 Community Programming

29 Community Programming

30 Community Programming

San Leandro DIVCA

15 Government Access

27 Chabot College

28 Local Programming (M-F 3:45PM – 9:00AM)(S-S 24 HRS)

San Pablo DIVCA

24 Educational Access

26 Leased Access/Information Channel

27 CCTV

San Ramon LOCAL

26 Community Programming

27 Contra Costa TV

28 Community Programming

29 Community Programming

30 Community Programming

Richmond/El Cerrito DIVCA

26 Local/Leased Access

27 CCTV

28 PEG Access

33 Educational Access

Union City LOCAL

15 Government Access

27 Educational Access

28 Local Origination

Walnut Creek LOCAL

24 Leased Access

26 Local Programming excluding Concord

27 CCTV

28 Govt Access (Concord)

32 Educational Access



Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Coronation of Spring

This is a video test. What do you think?
Can you make a 100mb or less video?
This may be what Contra Costa gets for public access.
At least it's better than a sharp stick.

The video below is h264, 30fps, 320X240, best settings, 88mb.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where are the PEG Funds?

The old Preacher told a story once about a frog in a saucepan full of water. The heat was applied slowly and the frog just adjusted to the water temperature and swam around until he cooked himself to death.

This might be a good description of that 71 cents a month you pay Comcast for Public, Educational and Government television. Since you pay a lot more for other channels like MTV and ESPN, the PEG fee is a good bargain.

$.71 is not a lot of money even when paid out each month. But it does add up and should provide a quality and valuable PEG service to subscribers. That’s the whole idea. So imagine my surprise when I am told that there is “no money for PEG” or that “we already spent the money.”

What is that bubbly sound I hear in my little hot tub?

Five years ago I obtained some numbers about Comcast subscribers in Central Contra Costa County. Today I asked Christine Wampler at Contra Costa Television for more current County information, which she had at her fingertips. The numbers reflect a 18% reduction in subscribers. So in the great tradition of voodoo math I submit to you an approximation of how much money has been paid for the PEG specific fund by Comcast. That would be the 2004 subscribers minus 18%. These figure are for astonishment and comparison only. They are definitely close but not quite reliable.

City ...................Subscribers....Estimated PEG fund payments

Clayton .................. 2,728........... 63,917.04..... 1,936.88 mo.
Concord ............... 18,021......... 422,232.03..... 12,794.91 mo.
Danville................. 9,597.......... 224,857.00...... 6,813.70 mo.
Martinez ................8,556......... 200,467.08...... 6,074.76 mo.
Pleasant Hill.......... 9,110.......... 423,422.35...... 6,468.10 mo.
Walnut Creek...... 12,180............285,377.40.... 8,647.80 mo.
Contra Costa Co...32,313............757,093.59... 22,942.30 mo.

Totals.................. 92,505........... $2,167,392...... $65,678.45

Access Contra Costa advanced a preliminary proposal to provide public and educational access from a capital funds budget amounting to 4.6% of the available funds. This amount is less than 10% of the funds that would accrue to public and educational access if the PEG funds were split four ways. (There is a separate category in “PEG” that provides for metropolitan area networks, INET).

When the franchise was signed Comcast also paid $2Million dollars of the PEG payments up front. The money is paid back through a reduction in monthly PEG payments. There was also an unrestricted grant that could have funded PEG start-up operations that was appropriated for other purposes.

According to the representatives present on the August 10 meeting of the Contra Costa Cable Consortium there is very little money available and that much of it has been spent. Some there made it perfectly clear that their cities did not support or want public and educational access television.

What happened to two million plus dollars? Are we cooked?

Friends, Access Contra Costa needs your help. We are small and socially powerless. Yet we offer the skill and expertise to create a valuable community service that empowers those of us who yearn to communicate with our neighbors.

Monday, August 10, 2009

ACC Access Deployment Plan Summary

Dear Reader,

This is a revision of an earlier posting. Today I present to the Contra Costa Cable Consortium. This is a group of city officials from Central County who created the current franchise with Comcast.

Today's presentation should begin the process to creating a community media center here.


This is the first stage of a plan to deploy public access and educational television services as provided for in the current franchise agreement with Comcast Cable and the Cities represented by the Contra Costa Cable Consortium.

Under the current franchise agreement Comcast provides a countywide public access channel and transmission services on Channel 26. This will conclude sometime in September 2009. At present there is no entity or organization ready to operate the public access channel. Without such an entity it is entirely possible that Comcast may want to reclaim the channel. This would represent a considerable loss of a public resource.

The Contra Costa Educational Television Consortium (CCETV) temporarily transmitting from Contra Costa College provides educational television services throughout Contra Costa County. Unfortunately Central County educators must travel to San Pablo to post programs on the server there. It has long been a goal of CCETV to locate a server in Central Contra Costa County to rectify this problem. This is an intelligent plan to address these two issues.

Access Contra Costa is a group of educators and community media professionals determined to retain all of the PEG channels and to especially help public and educational television thrive. Each of us is an involved stakeholder in those protracted negotiations for the current Central County Comcast Franchise. Each individual involved in this plan has lengthy front-line experience in the production and distribution of live and taped programs throughout Contra Costa County. [This writer has roots in public access television as past president of Diablo Video Arts, Inc.] Access Contra Costa is prepared to reactivate that organization’s 501.c 3 for the purpose of creating a PEG community media center. The by-laws of this organization are the type necessary to create a community media organization. Since reactivation is easier than starting over, that first important hurdle has been removed.

Access Contra Costa (ACC) proposes to operate the public and educational access channels, and eventually the overflow channels provided for in the current Central County Comcast franchise agreement. Programs would be transmitted via a two-channel server into two of four existing and active fiber lines. There is no doubt that an assertive drive now to keep the public access channel, rid it of infomercials and open up its use will yield a future bounty well worth the fee Comcast subscribers pay each month. New programming and delivery methods will make it easy for people to post local videos as well as more sophisticated programs. New production methods make television much simpler and far more localized.




In many previous models for public access, and especially public access operated by incumbent cable companies, the process to make a television program was exasperating. Access Contra Costa would devote its entire suite of services to making access to new media as easy as possible for everyone. Too often, public access is dominated by the technically astute. Often this creates barriers to access by the less technically inclined. ACC will find ways for citizens to effectively use local television with no other skill than knowing what they want to get their needs met. And for the more intrepid videomakers, ACC plans to offer a regional audience with much improved picture quality – a quantum improvement from blurry YouTube® images.

The result of this plan will be a fully operational community media organization that, like many similar across the country, serves well and has a constituency that feels it is getting its money’s worth from their franchise fees. The only difference is that this one might start out using somebody’s garage for a studio.

Access Contra Costa is aware that funds available from the PEG Fee each subscriber pays can only be used for capital expenditures. ACC also realizes that PEG capital funds may only be spent on video enterprises that are eventually screened on the appropriate PEG channel. ACC asks only for a small proportion of the funds already paid by Comcast. Access Contra Costa is also aware that no other funding for operations will be appropriated from the 5% franchise fee paid by cable providers.

Access Contra Costa welcomes the opportunity to operate the old fashioned way. We will earn our keep and pour the rest into community service. We are asking the Contra Costa Cable Consortium to help us get a start.

The first operational program of Access Contra Costa would be to engage the non-profit community through local citizens. Residents of Cable Consortium Cities would be invited to sponsor in non-commercial videos produced by non-profits. ACC would not play any program not first sponsored by a resident. Programs produced locally would be greatly appreciated. ACC plans to employ advanced technologies to greatly increase the number of program replays – something valuable and important to the success of community media.

The ultimate goal is to have a vital and popular community television presence complementing the other successful community communication endeavors. On the way to that goal are some difficult issues such as operational funding, scope of services, perceived value, and sustainability for at least five years.

The success of this operation will depend upon its ability to effectively engage viewers and provide programs they would choose to view. It would start with a public solicitation of residents to sponsor the videos from non-profit organizations. Wherever possible local branches or agencies exist they will be offered professional services to significantly extend their outreach.

Access Contra Costa would assertively engage local industry in offering workplace learning via television. California does not reimburse educators for distance learning television without a substantial infrastructure contribution. The “run-up” now is simply too expensive and unattainable. Therefore ACC wishes to create a three-way partnership with industry and their needs and dollars, the television audience of Contra Costa County, and educators willing and able to serve any kind of learner given the necessary resources.

Like all technology venues there is a need for equipment to operate. Access Contra Costa wishes to apply for equipment that would provide direct cable services and access video production, digital post-production and sophisticated distribution of programming. In short Access Contra Costa will have to pay for public access out of the proceeds from professional services. ACC will need to start with that equipment and use that acquisition to leverage additional grant funding for specific projects.

At the heart of this plan is the use of server technology to automate many of the functions of television playback. Inexpensive video servers are combined with fiber delivery to the Comcast head end. With web-based switching apparatus located at Comcast and a server and fiber link located at Mt Diablo Adult Education it would be very economical. If a fiber link needs to be established elsewhere the cost would be about $20,000.
Having a server system makes it possible to earn operating income

During this early phase partnerships will be cultivated with community organizations to produce low-cost community videos. This will be expressed in educational partnership course offerings and special seminars. This author would like to see the Bay Area Video Coalition come here and provide some advanced training in video production.

In the next phase ACC would partner with corporate outreach programs to assist learners via television. Such programs would be produced by ACC and paid for by the sponsor. There are many businesses that would be willing to sponsor a program that prepares people to function in the workplace. These businesses decry the current state of employee education. From an educator’s point of view this solves a dilemma: there is no reimbursement for direct television distance learning. So if the production costs were borne by industry it would be easier to obtain partnerships with public education.

While production services begin so also should public access advance. At present the idea of streams of video clips provided by resident s would be laced together and played in sections. With a server and the easier programming methods it would be possible to create playlists of special videos, say all sports contributions, or all religious themes; and play them out over a period of time. Those programs can be just as easily regrouped into a general playlist. A schedule for each playlist would be publicly available and easily accessible.

During all this time a Board of Directors will be seated. The board will be drawn from individuals who while not necessarily television industry professionals would be informed community leaders.



The architecture for this center leaves open many possibilities for development. The actual outcome might be different than first imagined because of advancements in both technology and the thought about their use.

Turning back to the first necessary steps, here is what Access Contra Costa desires from the City of Concord and the other cities that comprise the cable consortium:

Become a principal sponsor of this public television initiative. Contribute ideas and add to the potential. Help show residents what good community television looks like and how it is easy and convenient to be part of a local video network. Actively assist in forging lasting productive television partnerships.

Share the city channels for demonstration projects as done in previous years with the Gallery Concord Project. Also some use of the channel to promote public access.

An agreement to provide PEG services for five years.

Capital funding consideration for first stage operations:

4 channel video server, fiber link, ingest equipment, one edit workstation, two
field cameras and related accessories. These items total about $100,000.

Equipment replacement fund of $20,000 per year.

The path to success here is to begin small, be at all times self-sufficient, possess the necessary tools to realize production commitments and strive at all times to include as many people as possible in the day-to-day operations of Access Contra Costa.

Respectfully Submitted

Robert Rothgery
Executive Director
Access Contra Costa