Watching, not waiting
As telecommunications reform legislation moves to the Senate floor, debate is stirring over public cable channel access and control over cable television service distribution. Local governments fear the implications of H.R. 5252, which includes mandates that could limit their access to cable channels that broadcast government meetings and programs. As a result, cities and counties are looking for alternative ways to broadcast meetings using mediums that complement cable television coverage but also could bypass it should it disappear.
Local officials are watching two pieces of legislation closely. On June 8, 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act. On June 28, 2006, the Senate Commerce Committee approved the Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act. Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is just short of securing the 60 votes necessary to move the legislation to the Senate floor and avoid a threatened filibuster.
If the Senate approves the legislation, a conference committee will resolve differences between the Senate and House versions, which local governments fear will weaken or strip out Public, Educational and Government Access (PEG) provisions that give them access to local cable channels, reduce municipal funding for PEG activities, and eliminate local requirements for cable providers to extend service to all residents. City and county officials are concerned that access to PEG channels will deteriorate along with the value of community television if build-out provisions are not reinforced.
Some cities and counties are turning to Internet streaming video to broadcast government information that is usually distributed on cable channels. Mecklenburg County, N.C., began using streaming video on its Web site in May to reach more viewers than those who receive local cable television and to let Web site visitors replay meetings at any time. Given the proposed federal reforms, Brian Cox, assistant county manager for Mecklenburg County, sees streaming video as a way to preserve access to government information. “Having streaming media on our Web site, MecklenburgCountyNC.gov, provides a service level guarantee that county government programs will be accessible through on-demand video,” he says.
Bellevue, Calif., also is streaming live and on-demand video of city council meetings synchronized with public meeting minutes, agenda proposals and reports on its Web site. It also streams public service announcements, city performance measures, internal video training for fire departments and emergency broadcast information. “We increasingly see the Internet as our primary means of delivering government education. Cable is secondary,” says David Kerr, franchise director for the city.
The number of homes with broadband and wireless connections is rising across the nation, and cable television penetration continues to decrease because of new entries to the video service market. In light of those trends, local governments are reconsidering communication methods to keep residents abreast of local issues and may find that streaming media is a viable alternative for maintaining public access to government information.
The authors are CEO and public relations coordinator, respectively, for San Francisco-based Granicus Streaming Solutions.