Public Access, Educational, TV, Funds Languish

Every month Alameda Comcast and AT&T U-verse subscribers pay fees required by the 2006 Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA). This money is intended to support Public, Educational and Government (PEG) mass-media access. While the City of Alameda has spent some of that money since 2011 on the government side, none has been made available for either public or educational functions.

In February 2011, the City Council approved, and then-Mayor Marie Gilmore signed, an ordinance bringing Alameda in line with DIVCA, which transferred cable TV franchises from the local to the state level.

Passage of DIVCA allowed Comcast to close its Alameda video studio in the Marina Village Shopping Center, and its studio in Hayward, providing cost savings. A stated intent of DIVCA was to foster competition by eliminating the requirement on cable companies to fund and operate studios in every local jurisdiction.

The act also allows cable companies to itemize PEG recovery fees on bills to consumers. Under the new state franchise model, Comcast and AT&T pay a percentage of gross revenue to local municipalities to support PEG programming, typically 1 percent, or, in Alameda, for 2014, $171,000.

Since Alameda came into line with DIVCA, it has recorded, according to information obtained from the City of Alameda under the California Public Records Act, $714,000 in PEG revenue.

City records show that Alameda’s current PEG fund account balance is just over $500,000. Of that, some $208,000 has been spent, according to the city clerk, to update the video broadcast equipment — system controls, cameras and audio equipment in the City Council Chambers.

This spending qualifies as government spending under the rules for PEG dollars, and supports the local broadcast of City Council meetings on government channels on Comcast and AT&T U-verse.

That leaves roughly $506,000 in the PEG fund on the city’s books.

At the current rate of PEG fund contributions from Alameda cable TV subscribers, by way of Comcast and AT&T, and barring any expenditures, the City of Alameda PEG fund balance will reach almost $900,000 next year, and top $1 million in two years.

When Comcast closed its Hayward office, the City of Hayward contracted with Chabot College, in Hayward, and its media department to manage operations of the local PEG channels; Chabot TV KCTH broadcasts a public access channel on the Internet, on AT&T and on Comcast Channel 27.

Hayward routes $117,000 per year to Chabot TV for the college to manage the PEG channels, and provide public access to studio facilities at Chabot’s Hayward campus. The City of Fremont contracted with Chabot TV as well. The City of Oakland contracted with the Peralta Community College District, which operates Peralta TV and the College of Alameda, to run its PEG channels for $200,000 per year.

As it stands today, video producers in Alameda can take ready-to-air content to Chabot TV to play back on existing public access channels, but do not have access to the studios there, nor to any PEG-funded studios in Alameda, to create content.

This limits the creation of public access content.

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