Telecom reform provides window of opportunity Paul F. P. Pogue A surprising turn of events in the cable television landscape has turned Public Access Indiana’s decade-long quest for public access television into a frenzied race through the summer. With the passage of House Bill 1279 in March, cable companies can opt out of local cable franchises and move under the control of the statewide Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. According to Andrea Price, president of PAI, industry watchers expected most cable companies to opt out, but were surprised when Bright House Networks, one of the two major cable companies in Marion County, applied for a renegotiation of their local franchise agreement with the city-county cable franchise board, even though the agreement doesn’t expire until 2008. “Bright House Networks wants to iron out a new local franchise agreement before July 1 and remain under local authority instead of statewide,” Price said. Indianapolis’ public access channels were lost in 1996, the last time the city renewed cable franchise agreements. Price said that PAI had been expecting to lobby throughout the next two years for community access television, and that this change moves up the timetable and energizes their constituency. “We see this as the opportunity we’ve been waiting for,” Price said. “What we want to see is that there be a public access TV channel included in that TV contract, and we think this is the best opportunity we have. There’s been real momentum, even with the short window of opportunity we have. Looking back, the community got active after the public access channel went away. This time we’re there, we’re involved, we’re paying attention. We’ve organized a community. We are in a good position to make it happen.” Comcast, the area’s other major cable provider, has not made a similar request and is not expected to, but Price said that the effects of this renegotiation will be felt when Comcast’s contract is up. “It really bothers me that Indianapolis is one of only two major cities without a public access channel, and the only one to have ever eliminated a public access channel,” Price said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to increase the number of community voices.” Public hearings concerning the new franchises are expected to take place in June, but in the meantime, Price encouraged supporters to attend next Monday’s monthly meeting of the Cable Franchise Board. “This is not the public hearing, but it’s a good time for the community to come out and voice its support,” Price said. “This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for all these years.” Supporters of the Indianapolis Public Access TV campaign will meet today, Wednesday, May 10, at 5:30 p.m. in the Ice Miller Room of the IU Emerging Technologies Center, 351 W. 10th St. The cable franchise board next meets Monday, May 15 at 2:30 p.m. in room 230 of the City-County Building. For more information check out www.indyaccess.org.