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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.

video

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Local Journalists Trump Big Media Again and Again

Yesterday afternoon I started my cyber-ablutions with quick peeks at Facebook, Craigslist and Claycord.com. Claycord.com is the local news blog for the area and it is very good. I was saddened to read that there was a vehicle fatality that resulted in the closure of a major commute artery. I read and moved on.

Then the phone rang. My friend called me because he was stuck in traffic near the accident and wanted to know what was going on. He didn't listen to KCBS or any other traffic report because he knew that if I was home I could access Claycord.com and probably get the story. He was right. I read him the post about the crash including an important update posted seconds earlier. Having this information helped my friend avoid the worst of the traffic.

I had to be somewhere an hour later but in that time KCBS did not report the road closure or anything else about the incident. Claycord was the only news source for over an hour.

This is pretty good journalism for communities that have little or no television coverage, a vapid newspaper with precious little local reporting. My hat is off to Mr. Mayor and those folks who contribute to Claycord.com. They not only filled a void. They created a new community standard. They declare that the value of an idea is not necessarily based on its ability to pay its way.