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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

700 MHz Wireless Microphones

A brief diversion.

Many organizations use cordless microphones. These include churches, performance venues, hotels and the like. Many of these microphones are expensive, costing up to $2,000 each. Most microphones use frequencies associated with the old analog TV spectrum, with many in the “700 mhz.” range, (former channels 52 – 69).

Now that we have digital television which uses the former ch 2 – 51 range, the remaining spectrum has been sold off to telecom providers such as Verizon and AT&T, (4G Networks), and emergency services providers, (764 – 776 MHz and 794 – 806 mhz).

Wireless mics were permitted to operate in these frequencies without license and therefore without recourse when the frequencies were auctioned off for over 12 Billion dollars last year.

The only options or wireless mic users is to have the frequency changed or buy new mics. Some undoubtedly run their mics to the bitter end. Imagine a homily interrupted by the police on a vice raid. Or just imagine the range of your $2000 mic system diminishing to 10 feet. Not good.

One would imagine there would be lots of written material on this topic but there isn’t much. My latest document search this morning yielded nothing newer than December 2008. Not good. Not much else available through search engines like Google and Dogpile.

So, dear reader, I will add this topic as a thread on this blog. I will return to the topic as soon as I can find new information for you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Core Values of Public Access

Media Alliance recently presented a document that contained "core values" for public access television. They pretty much explain themselves and are at the starting point for Access Contra Costa communications policy:

• Public access content is supposed to originate in and meet the needs of local publics as determined by citizen-producers. The role of the public access operator is to provide training and technology resources to enable local content..

• Cable franchise owners derive massive benefit from using a public utility. Switching the public access funding model largely to user fees and philanthropy shifts the funding base from one of guaranteed corporate responsibility onto access users and public philanthropy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Value of An Idea

Early this month The City of San Francisco awarded a contract to the Bay Area Video Coalition. The reason is that the cable providers have reorganized under California State Cable law, (DIVCA ), and that the money available for Public Access had been so reduced that the incumbent public access provider threw in the towel.

Several groups submitted proposals including a group of access producers who were already frustrated with Access SF, the former provider. By any standards their proposal was weak which is too bad because they had a succinct vision.

The Bay Area Video Coalition weighed in with the winning application. It is not only forward thinking – it contains rhetoric that will only become ubiquitous in two years and overworked before their PEG contract runs out. My favorite word is “curated“ videos. That means some individual or methodology decides whether or not you ever get access. BAVC proposes to post public access submissions on Miro.com to be viewed on computers by the digital cognoscenti who then vote on the popularity of the submission. Winners get their video played on the public access channel. Twice. I can just imagine my program on the robotic treatment options for prostate cancer being trumped by some malodorous 250 jump cut viral epic because its author sits on his computer all night pounding the “vote” button. ☺

Actually the BAVC plan is forward looking which is really too bad. They were the only organization to submit a workable business plan and they will most likely increase some of the diversity of television which isn't hard, even in a city like San Francisco.

It’s really too bad because increasingly cities are take money from cable companies sometimes including PEG funds and using them for their own purposes while marginalizing public access. Citizens don’t care because they have absolutely no idea of what they are missing. The cable companies did a great job of that. That is the best possible context for cities receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars that are not accounted for lack of basic interest.

The most likely municipal excuse for behavior that ultimate restricts citizen access to television is the ridiculous notion that winky blinky technology from Web 2.0 obviates the need for public access television.

Ron Cooper, executive director of Access Sacramento and a gigantic voice for access describes these dismissive deflections as “making sweet lemonade.” Cooper sees this as “aggressive actions that diminish free speech in these communities, deny access to much needed training and public access facility support, and further silence those who need our support the most – minority languages, cultures and points of view. “ Ron Cooper speaks the truth.

Here in Contra Costa public access faces the same dilemma that BAVC faces. There isn’t enough public money to do the job, and that money can’t be used for operational support. So Access Contra Costa is eventually going to have to earn an income in order to provide services and operate in a responsible manner.

It really sucks that the value of an idea is based on its ability to pay its way.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What is at Stake Here.

My first visit to Contra Costa County was thirty years ago when I met with a gentleman about television. At the time the very last UHF TV Channel was operated by a commercial religious broadcaster. Channel 42 was supposed to be a regional station for all of us and he wanted to change that quotient. Not to be. Eventually, when it all faded away at Contra Costa's own local station, it was taken over by Azteca Television and is now a Spanish language station. At least somebody is getting served in Contra Costa.

So the last resort is what a lot of people have worked for and that is a regional television presence such as the public access channel 26 that serves a potential audience of 144,000 people. Do the numbers- 144,000 is a major market folks and it is about to be dumped for no good reason at all.

A major market station is probably worth 5-10 million dollars. The County Cable Commissioner has suggested a multimillion dollar valuation to a PEG channel.

And it is not only headed for the trash bin. Its preservation is not seen as being very valuable - not a big priority. What better excuse could a city have for hoarding PEG funds than to dismiss the whole thing as unnecessary because 'there is the Internet for public expression.'

Excuse me. If that is so then why do Comcast subscribers pay $.71 a month, (times lot and lots of folks) for PEG channels if the people that take our money don't believe it themselves.

The value of community communication is evidenced by the rise of so many blogs and postings on viral sources like YouTube and Blogspot. There is more than a little yearning for community awareness. Its a big yearning and more and more people are learning that no one will inform them better then they inform each other.

Television has a place in that infrastructure and cable access television may be the remaining way to actually have a television presence worth calling our own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Meeting With Concord Officials

Last Friday I met with two people from the City of Concord about public access. I presented my plan as succinctly as possible. The response was polite but colored with a reminder that public access television really wasn't a priority in light of the current economic woes Concord faced.

I expect to hear basically the same thing when I visit with other city officials.

It is patently obvious that if anything gets done in public access television it sure will have to be spectacular. The way I see it, a successful community media presence in this county will be built on a triad of great service, a demanding public and a sound business plan.

Lots of hard work ahead.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Community Media in Novato

This is the kind of community media I would like to see here in Central County. Log on to this link and get a pleasant surprise: http://tv1.npat.org/index.html

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Now Public Access TV

Why now. Plans were formulated in Y20000. People were ascertained in 2000 and 2004. Yes, they wanted local PEG channels. The franchise negotiations took nearly six years. After the franchise took effect, it took six months for Comcast to initiate the Education channel. This, months after the educators said they were ready to transmit programs. Comcast continued to "manage" public access by intercollating the most vapid infomercials conceivable with the few public access programs being produced. In September Comcast is going to halt that too. It seems to me a time to step up.

Public Access is a real political football. The cities that negotiated as a group insisted for providing for PEG channels but really did nothing much after the franchise was struck. During the negotiations (2000-2006) there was a lot of city support for public access television. City officials in Concord and Walnut Creek actively informed stakeholders in public access and education.

After the negotiations most dealings with public access revolved around playback services and the like administered by the County, (Contra Costa Television). Their lawyers told them that there could be some serious problems with such an arrangement and thus bailed.

The County Cable Commissioner, Patricia Burke has said more than once that there needs to be someone to be the "visionary" to rescue "P."

So folks, I'm tryin to stuff myself into my Captain Video costume so I can do something to keep a public voice on Contra Costa cable systems.

Why am I doing this? Because I have seen how communities really benefit from an informed citizenry and I want to provide yet another popular pathway to that end; our own local television.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Legacy Television Still Alive and Kicking

Here is a great article about legacy television and why it should not be counted out in current times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/business/media/08digi.html?emc=eta1

Naked Nazis Hiding Under Your TV Set

In the last thirty five years I have heard just about every excuse for not wanting public access television. Public Access has been assaulted from just about every angle, but the worst to me is what I call the Naked Nazi Syndrome, (NNS). NNS holds that if you let public access television into your community, all manner of despicable producers will assert their First Amendment Rights and pummel us with right wing, (or left wing, or middle of the bird), screeds that will undermine our communities or at least make them vulnerable to takeover by the Taliban. If that doesn't strike fear in your heart then there are the soft porn purveyors who will steal our children and assault us with exposed body parts and innuendo.

What public access television detractors, especially those in government, will rarely admit about their public access phobia has nothing to do with nudity or political speech. It has much more to do with the expression of differing opinions.

Naked Nazis wither in comparison to an informed citizen with a camera. I hope to see a lot of informed citizens out there expressing themselves and growing a vibrant community in the process.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Vision for Community Media -Part Three

I have seen a lot of community media over the years. I’ve watched programs, judged videos in competitions and even made a few programs. I have seen trends that scare me because they point to the demise of local media and I have seen examples and venues that contribute visibly to community growth. Here’s to the latter.

One of the best examples of community media I have witnessed is www.claycord.blogspot.com and it performs a grand community service.

Claycord.com is a digital river. The daily events of Concord, Clayton, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Martinez pass by like little boatloads of information. Claycord.com is a forum for local news that is supported by citizen reporters, gossipers, and other local commentators. It works. Yesterday as I parked my car I noticed a ConFire Supervisors car followed by a pumper moving in a big hurry towards the City of Clayton. When I got to my computer a minute later I logged onto Claycord.com for their scanner feed. The blog opened to a posting made while I was walking up the stairs indicating that a second alarm had been called on a local house fire. Five minutes later the first picture was posted and on and on. Fact is that this kind of coverage is commonplace on Claycord.com.

In addition to content there are other things that distinguish Claycord.com. The most important is that it is independent. Sure, Mr. Mayor is the archon extirpator of the entire enterprise. But he doesn’t seek grants or other things with strings. It is just pure citizen journalism. Well he has some ads. Big deal.

My hope and ambition for community television is to mimic the independence and citizen centricity evidenced in Claycord.com. The news gathering/contribution process is quick, simple and egalitarian. The folks who post news events on Claycord.com do appear to know just what they are doing. So that doesn’t have to be replicated in community video.

How nice would it be to create a river of feature television similar in method to Claycord.com or even Facebook. With current video server technology it is easy to fill community channels with many streams of programming. That same technology makes is easy to post schedules as well as RSS feeds such as Claycord.com. This opens a potential new audience. Providers need not be forced to produce whole productions but could place segments or other short clips. Their choice.

Video on television is generally better to look at than on YouTube and the like. The picture size, framerate and compression is bigger, faster, etc., making for better pictures. Back in the day one had to copy tapes onto a longer reel or play tapes one at a time. Now it’s a few clicks after the video is ingested into the server.

So, friends, what I am proposing and seek support for is a community media presence that functions a lot like Claycord.com with its independence and citizen base. But, also one that functions like a technology center. Where people can make a cable program, place a cable program for transmission, or communicate in other media platforms. But especially such a place will have valuable features in five years that have not yet been invented.