American Community Television Blog

Interview of Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director, by Gary Rosenberg Host of the Freedom Network

Listen, as Bunnie Riedel explains what is happening around the country with PEG access television and the Charter acquisition of Time Warner and Bright House.

Interview with Gary Rosenberg

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American Community Television Calls on FCC to Create an Appeals Process on Charter’s Treatment of PEG and Local Communities

In a filing in the Charter acquisition of Time Warner and Advanced/Newhouse (Bright House), American Community Television  (ACT) called on the FCC to create an appeals process so that PEG access channels and local communities could bring their complaints to the FCC and get an official opinion.

“Charter is the worst cable operator in terms of its public interest obligations to PEG access television and local communities,” said Bunnie Riedel, executive director.  “We have documented instances in which they blatantly breach existing cable franchise agreements and then tell PEG and communities to go pound sand.”

The filing asks that conditions be placed on the Charter merger to ensure that PEG stations and local communities are treated fairly.  It cites Charter removing cable drops from police and fire departments, forcing local school districts to rent cable boxes at tens of thousands of dollars per year and clear breaches of legal and binding contracts.

“What we see is Charter steps all over PEG channels and local communities because they know they can’t afford the litigation it will take to make them comply,” said Riedel.  “What we want is a formal review process conducted by the FCC, a process which is already paid for by the FCC’s collection of cable regulatory fees to the tune of $60 plus million per year from subscribers.”

That cable regulatory fee is $.96 per cable subscriber that is intended for cable regulation.  However, it is difficult to point to any cable regulation by the FCC in over a decade.

“The subscribers have already paid into that fund, we think it’s time the FCC use the money they are collecting to protect local communities and PEG,” said Riedel.  “Of all the cable operators, Charter is the most hostile to PEG and local communities and now they will become the second largest operator in the country.  Our PEG channels and communities need protection from this “Giant Ogre.”

 

American Community Television educates and advocates on behalf of Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television.  ACT was joined in the filing by the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA).  To contact Bunnie Riedel, executive director or John Rocco, president, please email riedel@acommunitytv.org or call 410-992-4976.

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Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Ed Markey (MA) Introduce the Community Access Preservation Act

May 8, 2015

For immediate release

Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Ed Markey (MA) jointly introduced legislation today to help preserve and protect Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television channels across the country.  The introduction of the Community Access Preservation Act (the CAP Act), was hailed by American Community Television (ACT) as critical to saving hundreds of channels as well as jobs in twenty-two states that passed statewide or state-issued franchising laws since 2005 and those that still have local franchising.

 “ACT has been working with these offices and many others to create a solution that will reverse the harm done to PEG access television,” said John Rocco, President of American Community Television.  “The CAP Act is critical to the survival of these important local television channels.  We are already losing channels and could lose many more if we don’t restore the intent of the Cable Act, which found PEG access television important to local communities and democracy.”

 Funding for PEG channels has been eliminated in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin.  ACT estimates as many as five hundred PEG channels in these states are at risk of shut-down.   Additionally, PEG channels in several states have been slammed to the upper 900’s, requiring Basic Tier customers to rent an additionally piece of equipment to see the channels.

“Congress, through the cable acts of 1984 and 1992, intended to make sure that local communities could have PEG access channels and funding in return for the cable operators’ use of public rights-of-way,” said Rocco.  “This legislation will restore what Congress intended and helps to secure a local community’s ability to use these channels to communicate.  We want to thank Senators Baldwin and Markey for their work to save these channels.”

 For over forty-five years, PEG access television has aired local government meetings, community events, educational and nonprofit programming, as well as individual programming.  It is estimated there are over 5,000 PEG access channels in the United States with over two million hours of locally produced original programming each year.

For more information on the CAP Act or PEG access television, contact John Rocco, President at john@acommunitytv.org or Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director at riedel@acommunitytv.org or by calling 410-992-4976.

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Charter Slams Northbridge, Massachusetts PEG Channels in Violation of Franchise Agreement

Press Release

October 24, 2014

While Charter employee, Tom Cohan, admitted to the Board of Selectmen of Northbridge, Massachusetts on October 20th that “most access channels in any town have a group of loyal viewers,” nevertheless, Charter slammed the PEG access television channels from 11, 12 and 13 to 191, 192 and 194 in a direct violation of the franchise agreement.

 The franchise agreement from May 2013 clearly states:

“The Licensee shall continue to make available to the Town and/or the Access Designee three (3) full-time Downstream Channels for PEG Access purposes on channels 11, 12, and 13.”

 When challenged during the public hearing, Mr. Cohan said “I personally messed up in terms of the license we had with Northbridge,” but insisted that Charter would not move the PEG channels back to their contractual positions.

“It’s not the first time we’ve seen this hubris from cable operators, particularly Charter,” said John Rocco, President of American Community Television (ACT).  “Cable operators believe they can violate legal binding contracts with impunity because they know towns like Northbridge don’t have the resources to wage protracted legal battles.”

At one point during the meeting, Mr. Cohan asserted that he didn’t know there was any advantage of being in the “lower numbers.”  However, ACT discovered that the access channels had been slammed to make way for QVC, Telemundo and the NFL Network.

“Cable always puts its home shopping channels in the lower digits because they know those positions are important, and here, Charter replaces the PEG channel with NFL Network?” said Rocco.  “Charter says they have done this because of the digital upgrade, but we know that Comcast didn’t slam PEG channels in Massachusetts when they transitioned, in fact they have kept them in their home positions during the transition.” During the meeting it was asked whether Northbridge should rescind its vote to allow the transfer from Charter to Comcast.

“They obviously should,” said Rocco.  “Being non-compliant with a current franchise is potentially a condition for denying transfer.  And certainly, Charter is not in compliance.”

American Community Television educates and advocates for Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television.  To contact Mr. Rocco or Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director, please call 410-992-4976 or email riedel@acommunitytv.org.  To see the Northbridge Selectman’s meeting on the channel slamming, go here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZdhea-vigI&feature=youtu.be

 

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Charter’s Malevolence Toward Local Communities Continues to Grow

Press Release

September 30, 2014

 Charter’s Malevolence Toward Local Communities Continues to Grow

              Citing multiple examples, American Community Television today called out Charter as the worst cable operator in the country when it comes to treatment of local communities and Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television.

             “It’s a dubious honor, being the worst cable operator in America,” said Bunnie Riedel, “but one Charter has worked overtime to obtain.”

             Riedel points to the slamming of PEG channels as one example.  In Missouri and Wisconsin, Charter has slammed PEG channels into the 900’s and in Massachusetts and North Carolina, they have slammed them to the 190’s.

             “There is no technical reason for Charter to do this and we see them replacing the Basic tier PEG channels with home shopping.  Basic tier customers have to rent additional equipment to get to the PEG channels.  It’s horrific because most often Basic tier customers are the elderly and the poor, they are hit hard with a 30% increase in their bills because the box costs $8-$10 a month to rent,” said Riedel.  “Basic tier customers can get QVC but not their church services or city council meetings?”

In another situation in Missoula, Montana, Charter has informed the school district they will have to rent boxes for every television in their classrooms.[1]  That cost is estimated to run $60,000 to $80,000 per year for the school district.

“In this situation, Charter once again shows itself to be a bad actor in the community.  They could have provided free DTA’s to the school district, just like Comcast did for customers in Maryland, but instead, Charter chooses to skim school district funds,” said Riedel.

The situation in Missoula reminds ACT of Charter’s removal of cable drops to police and fire departments in Missouri in 2011.[2]  ACT has since learned that Charter is currently cutting off cable service to first responders in Minnesota.

“I looked at the minutes of one volunteer fire department in a very small town, their total yearly budget is $70,000, and now they have to pay Charter for cable service.  You would think Charter might want to contribute to the efforts of the local volunteer fire department by continuing to provide free cable, if only as a good will gesture.  But no, that $100 per month is sorely needed by the multibillion dollar corporation,” said Riedel.

Not stopping there, Charter also charges local communities to transmit PEG channels they should be receiving.  “We’ve heard amounts as high as $4,000 per month, just to flip the switch and send the signal.  I personally think if we could get a community to take them to court they would win.  How can you have federal or state law that provides for PEG channels but then not transmit the channels unless the municipality pays the ransom?” asked Riedel.

ACT maintains that Charter’s lack of civic responsibility and malevolence toward local communities should prevent the transfer of properties between Comcast and Charter, and the further expansion through GreatLand Communications.

Charter will own a significant portion of the upper Midwest once all the transfers are approved.

“People in those upper Midwest states should be very nervous that Charter will be their new provider,” said Riedel.  “Along with everything else, Charter ranks dead last in customer service.”[3]

“We believe strong conditions should be placed on Charter in the FCC’s ongoing transfer proceedings.  Charter doesn’t believe there should be any conditions.  It’s time for communities to stand up for themselves and push back on this bully,” said Riedel.

American Community Television educates and advocates on behalf of Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access channels.  Ms. Riedel can be reached at riedel@acommunitytv.org or 410-992-4976.

 

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Charter Slams PEG Channels and Gouges Municipalities

July 18, 2014

Charter Slams PEG Channels and Gouges Municipalities

American Community Television (ACT) and the Southeast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA) were notified this week that Charter Communications has slammed Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access channels to the 180’s and 190’s in three more states.  PEG managers in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina report their PEG channels have been slammed and the channel placement requires subscribers to rent an additional box in order to receive their local community channels.

In addition, Charter has eliminated Basic Tier service to municipal buildings claiming the municipal building is a commercial service, requiring local governments and schools pay twice the monthly fee (from $30 to $70), in order to be able to receive their own PEG channels.

“This is a direct result of statewide franchising laws that passed in these states,” said Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director of ACT.  “Even so, Charter is the only cable company that is doing this so far.”

Three years ago ACT complained when Charter slammed PEG channels in Missouri and Wisconsin into the 900’s, including cutting off free cable service to first responders in some communities.

“Among the cable operators, Charter has the worst track record when it comes to the public interest,” said Riedel.  “They are openly hostile to PEG access television and municipalities.”

ACT has been speaking with Congressional offices regarding their concern over Charter acquiring Comcast cable systems and the formation of a new Midwest Cable, in partnership with Comcast’s shareholders, in the Midwest.

Historically, local governments would negotiate with the cable operator for free service to municipal buildings, schools, libraries, police and fire department buildings.  The service was considered part of the obligation of cable operators as they built their plant in, and used, the public rights of way.  However, since twenty-two states adopted a statewide franchising regime local governments have lost the power to franchise cable providers.

“At this time, when municipalities are barely making payroll, Charter has decided that it can make a profit on the backs of the taxpayers,” said Doris Boris, Executive Director of SEATOA.

American Community Television educates and advocates on behalf of Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television.  To contact Ms. Riedel, call 410-992-4976 or email riedel@acommunitytv.org, to contact Ms. Boris, call 704-541-5787 or email seatoa@carolina.rr.com.

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TVFREEDOM CALLS ON CONGRESS TO PASS THE COMMUNITY ACCESS PRESERVATION (CAP) ACT TO SUPPORT PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION

 

 

TVFREEDOM CALLS ON CONGRESS TO PASS THE COMMUNITY ACCESS PRESERVATION (CAP) ACT TO SUPPORT PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION

 

CAP Act Would Preserve Diversity in Local Television Programming Across America

 

Washington, D.C. – In letters to the respective U.S. Senate and House Commerce Committees, and their respective Subcommittees on Communications and Technology, TVfreedom.org expressed its full support for the Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act (S.1789) and called on Congress to pass this important legislation to help preserve diversity in local television programming across America.

 

The CAP Act would preserve public, educational and government (PEG) community access channels on Cable TV’s lifeline basic service tier, allow for the expanded use of PEG funding for station operations, and ensure cable companies transmit PEG channels without charge to local governments.

 

“Passage of the CAP Act is fundamentally critical to the long-term sustainability of more than 5,000 PEG access channels operated by municipalities, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations nationwide,” said TVfreedom.org member, Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director, American Community Television.

 

TVfreedom.org spokesman Robert C. Kenny stated, “In these challenging economic times in which the budgets of local governments are shrinking and municipalities are being asked to do more with less, it is critical that lawmakers factor this into their legislative agendas as they seek to empower local governments to deliver public service television programming to their local communities.”

 

Both letters state, “As part of its core mission, TVfreedom.org will continue to fight for the millions of Americans who subscribe to the lifeline basic service tier on cable TV systems, the overwhelming majority who may not be able to afford higher-priced cable programming packages, nor have options for affordable alternatives for service in smaller TV markets.”

 

Please visit the TVfreedom.org YouTube web page to watch consumer-friendly videos aimed at pushing back on the pay-TV industry’s gamesmanship in the marketplace and the ongoing abusive billing and business practices hurting consumers.

 

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AMERICAN COMMUNITY TELEVISION JOINS TVFREEDOM.ORG IN POLICY FIGHT TO PRESERVE LIFELINE BASIC SERVICE TIER AND LOCALISM

For Immediate Release  July 8, 2014  Robert C. Kenny
202-412-0976
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AMERICAN COMMUNITY TELEVISION JOINS TVFREEDOM.ORG IN POLICY FIGHT TO PRESERVE LIFELINE BASIC SERVICE TIER AND LOCALISM

New Partnership Fights to Preserve Public, Educational and Government (PEG) Access Channels on Lifeline Basic Service Tier in Interest of Millions of Cable TV Subscribers

Washington, D.C. – Today, American Community Television (ACT), a non-profit organization advocating on behalf of PEG access channels across the country, joined TVfreedom.org in the fight to preserve the lifeline basic service tier on cable TV systems.  The new partnership has been formed as Congress considers a series of potential pay-TV-led legislative add-ons that would include the elimination or redesign of the basic service tier as part of the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).

ACT is the 28th organization to join TVfreedom.org, and will work with TVfreedom coalition members to help push for legislation and policies that will preserve localism, while protecting affordable access to broadcast TV programming and PEG channels on cable TV systems for millions of low-income households, seniors, and minority communities across the nation.

Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director, ACT, said “We are delighted to join TVfreedom.org and look forward to working with its coalition members to actively advocate for localism.  We are concerned with so-called ‘reforms’ that actually erode competition in the U.S. video marketplace and, if implemented, would ultimately hurt the long-term viability of PEG channels across the nation.”

Emphasizing the critical role of PEG access channels, Riedel said, “Local broadcast TV stations and PEG channels often work together to deliver vital public service, educational and religious programming to viewers in their communities and cannot be replicated by pay-TV or broadband service providers.”

ACT, which represents more than 5,000 PEG access channels operated by municipalities, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations nationwide, is fully engaged in Congress as it seeks passage of the Community Access Preservation Act (CAP Act, S.1789). The CAP Act would preserve PEG access channels on Cable TV’s basic tier of service, provide support for those channels, allow for the expanded use of PEG funding for station operations, and ensure cable companies transmit PEG channels without charge to local governments.

TVfreedom.org supports the CAP Act legislation.

“We are pleased that American Community Television has joined TVfreedom.org in the fight to stand up to the pay-TV industry on these critical policy issues,” said the TVfreedom’s Director of Public Affairs, Robert C. Kenny.   “The Cable TV industry, in particular, is attempting to skirt long-standing public interest obligations associated with the basic service tier and community-based programming despite the fact that effective competition has not been found in more than half of the local television markets across the country.”

Kenny noted that according to a 2014 FCC report on cable pricing, cable operators have failed to show that there is effective competition for cable TV service in more than 56 percent of the local television markets throughout America.

As part of its core mission, TVfreedom will continue to fight for the millions of Americans who subscribe to the lifeline basic service tier on cable TV systems, the overwhelming majority who may not be able to afford higher-priced cable programming packages, nor have options for affordable alternatives for service in smaller TV markets.

Visit TVfreedom.org for the latest news on the U.S. video marketplace and follow us on Twitter, @TVfreedomorg.

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About Us
TVfreedom.org, is a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network television affiliate associations, multicast networks, manufacturers and other independent broadcaster-related organizations committed to helping protect consumer interests, ensure emergency and weather related programming access, promote the value of broadcast-TV programming, and preserve a fair and free video marketplace.

 

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The Comcast Way: First, Kill PEG Television

May 29, 2014

Press Release

The Comcast Way: First, Kill PEG Access Television

Simultaneous to projecting itself as a corporation that has the public’s best interest at heart in order to push through approval of the merger of Comcast with Time Warner, Comcast is waging war on Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television in America’s heartland.

“I find it ironic that Comcast is desperately trying to position itself worthy of merger approval when in Minnesota they’re trying to cut the PEG access support fees by 90% and reduce the number of channels by as much as 50%” said John Rocco, President of American Community Television. “They turn the idea of negotiating in good faith on its head.”

On February 13, 2014, Comcast announced its merger with Time Warner, assuring regulators and the public that ultimately they would deliver a new and improved product that benefits consumers while not harming competition and consumer choices (http://tinyurl.com/kepuyjv).  In that same announcement, Comcast states “In every transaction, we have over-delivered on our public interest commitments.”

Further in the announcement, Comcast states: “PEG channels would be protected from migration to digital in the acquired systems that are not yet all-digital (unless otherwise agreed by the LFA), and would be protected from material degradation.”

“Making a concession to a digital transition of PEG channels, does us no good if those channels are stripped of their funding or reduced in number,” said Rocco.  “As usual, Comcast shows open hostility toward PEG access television and shows its true colors when it comes to meeting the public interest.”

There are over 40 PEG access operations in the state of Minnesota.  American Community Television is monitoring the situation in Minnesota with interest.

“We have learned that once a cable operator is able to run rough shod over one community, they will do the same to other communities,” said Rocco. “We believe the FCC and the Justice Department should be watching the situation unfolding in Minnesota.”

Mr. Rocco can be reached for comment by calling 410-992-4976 or john@acommunitytv.org.  Or contact Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director at riedel@acommunitytv.org.  American Community Television educates and advocates on behalf of Public, Educational and Government access television.

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PEG Channels Concerned Over Charter Acquisitions

Government Video Magazine–May 8th, 2014

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