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TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND COUNCILMEMBERS
FROM: ASSISTANT CITY MANAGER
DATE: SEPTEMBER 3, 2002
SUBJECT: SUPPORT OF LOCAL CABLE TELEVISION USAGE
Provide staff with direction regarding the current level of support of local cable usage provided by Cox Communications.
Recently, through Councilman Gardiner, the issue has been raised that there may be a need in the community for more local cable programming opportunities than are currently being provided by Cox Communications. Councilman Gardiner requested that staff prepare a report on the issue and present it to the entire Council for discussion.
In October 2000, the City Council adopted Resolution No. 2000-71 renewing the Franchise Agreement for cable television service with Cox Communications Palos Verdes, Inc. The Agreement was negotiated through a joint Ad Hoc Committee with the City of Rolling Hills Estates during a series of public meetings that took place between February 1999 and September 2000. The joint Ad Hoc Committee was made up of two City Council members from each city, as well as one staff member and legal counsel from each city. The final recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee were presented to the City Council on October 17, 2000. The City Council adopted the franchise renewal agreement basically as presented by the Ad Hoc Committee, with only a few minor amendments. The Franchise Agreement was granted for an initial term of ten (10) years, with the possibility of one five (5) year extension.
The current Franchise Agreement obligates Cox Communications to provide support for local cable usage. The agreement adopted in 2000 emphasizes government access (Channel 3), but also includes provisions to require educational and/or additional government access, if the Council later determines that there is an unmet need in the community for this type of access. In addition, Cox Communications has its own local channel (Channel 12). Below is a brief description of the local support currently provided through the franchise:
Federal law allows the City to require the local cable operator to provide a Public Access Channel as part of a franchise agreement. This type of channel can provide an outlet for individuals and groups in the community that want to develop and produce their own cable television shows. Based on the Cityís original 1985 Franchise Agreement with Dimension Cable, Cox provided one channel for Public Access (Channel 33).
During the review of the franchise, the joint Ad Hoc Committee found that more than 90% of the programming being shown on Channel 33 came from outside the Peninsula area and did not necessarily reflect the interests and values of the local community. However, due to First Amendment issues, Cox could not refuse to air outside programming that was submitted for broadcast.
Furthermore, since 1986, the City had participated in several incarnations of a regional Cable Advisory Committee, the goal of which was to promote the use of public access. Despite its efforts, the Cable Advisory Committee was unable to sustain a steady level of interest in local public access programming. In recent years, its membership dwindled from a broad membership (four cities, two districts and several non-profit organizations) to only three participants (Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates and Los Angeles/San Pedro), and the Committee was finally disbanded in 1999.
Given these circumstances, the City decided to eliminate Channel 33 as a public access channel and required Cox to replace it instead with a scrolling channel guide. The other cities on the Peninsula concurred with this decision. As a result, there is no public access channel for the Peninsula and Cox cannot be required to provide one until the Franchise Agreement comes up for extension in 2010. However, Cox maintains a public access studio in San Pedro that is open to Peninsula residents. In order to provide an outlet for the small amount of local public access programming that does exist on the Peninsula, the City required Cox to accommodate any local origination programming, as well as the Community Bulletin Board service, on the KCOX local channel (Channel 12).
Like public access, Federal law allows the City to require the local cable operator to provide an Educational Access Channel. Cox Communications does not currently provide such a channel, and based on City records, it does not appear that the local cable operator has ever provided such a channel in this community. Historically, all programming that would fall into this category has been accommodated either on Channel 3 (such as the broadcast of School Board meetings) or on KCOX Channel 12 (such as "Spotlight On Our Schools," high school sporting events, etc.). However, the City included a provision in the current Franchise Agreement to require Cox to provide one channel for noncommercial local educational programming, if the City Council determined that a dedicated educational channel would provide a meaningful benefit to the community. The Franchise Agreement requires that all programming on the educational channel would be subject to the approval of the City. However, the City has reserved the right to delegate the operation and management of any such channel to another entity of its choice.
Additional Government or Educational Access
Cox can also be required to provide one additional channel for the Cityís exclusive use for either governmental or educational programming purposes if the programming capacity on the access channel(s) exceeds a specified level. Therefore, if the City exercised all of its options under the current Franchise Agreement and could generate enough programming to fill the time available, it could potentially have three channels dedicated to local government and/or educational access.
KCOX Local Channel
Cox has its own local channel (KCOX Channel 12), which it uses for its own commercial purposes. The City has no legal authority or control over the content or programming shown on this channel. It is not included in the Franchise Agreement except, as mentioned above, Cox has agreed to accommodate on Channel 12 the Community Bulletin Board service and any local origination programming that would have previously been shown on Channel 33. This agreement was reached in order to address the Cityís concern that, with the elimination of the public access channel, there would be an outlet for the small amount of local programming that exists.
Historically, Cox has used Channel 12 to provide a wide variety of programming aimed at the local community. Examples include a local news program, interviews and special programs highlighting events, organizations and individuals in the community. Unlike public access, where the individuals/residents producing their program determine and control the content and format of the shows, the local programming on Channel 12 is developed and produced by Cox Communications. Unfortunately, Coxís longtime producer, Liz Brown, recently left on a one-year leave of absence from Cox. Her departure has resulted in a noticeable drop in the amount of local programming shown on KCOX and a concern has been expressed that this type of local programming may have come to an end. However, in speaking to General Manager Steve Fowler about the situation, he indicated that Cox has completed the recruitment for Ms. Brownís successor and will resume local programming on Channel 12 very shortly. In addition, Mr. Fowler indicated that Cox used the break in production to re-dress the sets at its local studio facility and re-equip its mobile production van.
In the early to mid 1990ís, the City used a Cable Television Intern to prepare scripts and coordinate with Cox Communications to produce PSAs and longer original programs for Channel 3. However, aside from the first intern who stayed for over a year and was extremely productive, the City has had difficulty in recruiting and retaining interns since that time. In addition, following the approval of the new Franchise Agreement, the City and the community have not demanded that Cox Communications provide the full level of local support that is available to us under the Franchise Agreement. During this two year period, the City has focused on itís website and the communications possibilities of computer technology rather than cable television. During this same time, the Director of Administrative Services assumed responsibility for producing original programming on Channel 3 as a collateral duty, but in the past year she has all she can handle simply keeping up with City Council meetings and minutes. As a result, we have not dedicated significant staff time to identifying topics and preparing scripts that would allow us to take advantage of our six 30 minute programs or our eight one minute public service announcements (PSAs).
If the Council is interested in maximizing the level of local cable support provided for in the Franchise Agreement with Cox Communications, staff suggests that the City recruit for a Cable Television Intern, either paid or an unpaid volunteer. This person would identify topics, research and write scripts, cast and produce:
Within 90 days after the second, fourth and sixth anniversary dates of the Franchise Agreement, or at any other time the City chooses, the City and cable operator are required to meet to review the technical performance of the cable television system, based on criteria included in the Franchise Agreement. The first of these reviews is coming up following October 17, 2002.