By the time the June 6 meeting of the Rules and Policy Committee of the City-County Council came to order, most interested parties already knew that the committee would not be reviewing a new cable franchise agreement with Bright House Networks. Bright House attempted to negotiate a new contract with the city before July 1 when oversight of cable providers switches from local to state jurisdiction. But what Bright House asked for was more than the city was willing to give.
Peter Blum, chair of the Cable Franchise Board who negotiated on behalf of the city, cited two main sticking points: Bright House wanted an opt-out clause to allow them to exit the agreement at their discretion and to reduce the number of access channels they currently provide from four to two. (Government and education access channels in Indianapolis are funded by a proportion of the fees local cable companies pay for the ability to use public rights-of-way to lay their cable.)Blum stated his contention that “No agreement is better than a bad agreement.” Andrea Price, Public Access of Indianapolis president, agreed, regarding the non-productive outcome as a victory. PAI, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to address the need for non-discriminatory, community access to cable television in Indianapolis, spearheaded the effort to ensure that any new cable franchise agreement include provisions to add at least one public access channel. That message was well received by the city in the person of Blum and the Cable Franchise Board; the council, typified by strong support from President Monroe Gray and Councillor Greg Bowes; and the community, represented by the more than 50 local organizations that have stated a desire to have a station to carry programming produced by people within the community.
In response to this support, Councillor Bowes is looking to sponsor a proposal to have the city open up a channel for use as a public forum, saying, “There is capability to broadcast content that has been independently produced.” The city’s contracts with both Bright House and Comcast provide for two channels in addition to the four allocated for government and education access programming. Given the city’s financial situation, funding such a channel will likely need to come from private, community sources. Within those constraints, Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell says, “If there’s a chance to do it without extra city investment, we’re absolutely open to a public access channel.” While exploration of funding options proceed in the near term, the city’s best chance to get a fully funded community access channel and/or media center may come as cable companies renegotiate agreements that expire in 2008 with the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission, which assumes oversight of such agreements on July 1.
Kathleen Dobie is a member of PAI who wants her public access TV. PAI’s Web site is www.indyaccess.org.