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TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL
FROM: CABLE TELEVISION AD HOC COMMITTEE
DATE: MARCH 4, 2003
SUBJECT: EDUCATIONAL ACCESS CHANNEL
On September 17, 2002, the City Council established a Cable Television Ad Hoc Subcommittee, consisting of (then) Mayor McTaggart and Councilman Gardiner, to explore the possibility of maximizing the Cityís use of local cable access under the current Franchise Agreement with Cox Communications. Section (C)(1) of Exhibit E, Support of Local Cable Usage, of the October 17, 2000 Cable Television Franchise Agreement states:
Following a determination by the Grantorís City Council that a dedicated educational access channel will provide a meaningful benefit to the community, taking into consideration alternative uses for the channel, and that the channel will be for such use, Grantee will provide to Grantor, at no cost to Grantor, one channel for noncommercial local educational programming.
As reported by Councilman Gardiner at the October 15, 2002 City Council meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee met with Cox Communications General Manager Steve Fowler on October 7, 2002 to discuss, among other issues, the Cityís interest in creating a dedicated educational access channel. Based the results of that discussion, the Ad Hoc Committee directed staff to send out letters to local educational institutions soliciting their input regarding the creation of a local educational access channel and inviting them to attend the November 5, 2002 City Council meeting to discuss the matter.
At the City Council meeting on November 5, 2002, after receiving testimony and discussing the educational access channel idea, the City Council directed staff to invite representatives of interested parties to meet with the Ad Hoc Committee to discuss various issues including how they would utilize an educational channel if it were available and what resources they might offer to support the channel.
As a result of the Workshop with educational institutions serving the Peninsula, the Ad Hoc Committee made the following recommendations to the City Council at their December 17, 2002 meeting:
All five recommendations were approved.
At the City Council meeting of February 18, 2003 the City Council decided to place on hold any expenditures related to creation of a City owned and operated Cable TV studio until the budget process was completed. The Council, however, did reaffirm that the establishment of the educational access channel should proceed with or without the studio.
The Cable Television Ad Hoc Committee met on February 25, 2003 to discuss ideas that would allow the City Council to continue to pursue the goal of developing a way of producing governmental and educational programs without dependence on the Cox Communications staff and facility. As the Council will recall from the December 17, 2002 staff report, the estimated costs to develop and operate the studio are as follows:
Since the December 17, 2002 Council meeting the Public Works Department has evaluated the condition of the existing Cable TV building and determined that the cost to rehabilitate it would be less than originally anticipated. In addition, PV on the Net has offered to provide approximately $50,000 of production and editing equipment if the Cable TV building is rehabilitated for use as a studio. PV on the Net will also provide interns to operate the production and editing equipment if they are permitted to recoup some of their costs by charging a fee for their work. Finally, the Cable Television Ad Hoc Committee feels there may be an opportunity to convince Cox Communications to provide, or fund, the required equipment to transfer video input to the cable network. A summary of the current cost estimates, compared with the original cost estimates, for start-up of a functional studio are shown in the table below:
Current estimates for annual operating cost, compared with original estimates are summarized below:
Although the studio proposed for $35,000 will not be as fully equipped and functional as the one originally proposed, the Ad Hoc Committee feels that providing an Educational Channel Studio under the control of the City now will provide significant benefit to the community. Currently, it is very difficult to schedule the use of the Cox Communications studios for City programs, as Councilmembers who have participated in "City Talk" are well aware.
It may be helpful to the Council to see what Cox Communications estimated as costs to operate an independent cable channel facility. The Cox outline (attached) includes estimates of Start up Costs, Labor Needs and Costs, Labor Costs per Show (In Studio and Field), and miscellaneous costs. The Cox estimates are far greater than the Ad Hoc Committee is proposing for our facility primarily due to a volunteer component. The willingness of Ted Vegvari (PVNet) and Gabriella Holt (our Producer/Director) to provide pro bono professional and technical services as well as the offer to provide production and editing equipment constitute an opportunity that is difficult to ignore. To further put the $35,000 start-up cost and the $10,000 annual operating cost in perspective, the City annually spends about $25,000 for the quarterly newsletter, $12,000 for the Reader Board, about $5,000 for "Streaming Video" and over $33,000 in City Grants to community service organizations.
One additional point identified by the Cable Television Ad Hoc Committee is that the old Cable Studio building is currently without a tenant or any identified use and is just sitting there vacant and deteriorating absent any upkeep or maintenance. The City may be better off doing the deferred maintenance on the building now and prevent large-scale maintenance later.
The Cable Franchise Agreement requires Cox Communications to provide the City with a dedicated educational access channel at no cost to the City. However, although Cox is required to provide space in its channel line-up, the Franchise Agreement does not obligate the cable operator to provide any of the equipment, staffing or other financial support that may be required to develop, produce and edit the programming that will be shown on the channel.
The cost of re-furbishing the Cable TV studio ($25,000) could be borne by the Building Replacement Fund that currently has a balance of about $1 million. The City share of equipment costs ($10,000) could be taken from the projected General Fund Reserve available for appropriation (which is the Total General Fund Reserve less the General Fund Reserve policy level of $6,451,870). The current balance of this fund is $245,530. Operating costs for materials and supplies ($10,000) should be charged to current General Fund revenues. Our current approved operating expenditures are slightly greater (about $25,000) than estimated General Fund revenues.
Respectfully submitted for the Cable Television Ad Hoc Committee: