Wednesday, January 16, 2008

GMF 1/16/08


BY Terry Bankert
posted first at

Public access!...A REPRIEVE!!! Paul Herring of Flint is leading a revolt. He wants Comcast cable customers to boycott the company. [FJ011508 ] Thousands of Genesee County residents enjoy the Public Access programing on channel 17 Comcast. Comcast a monolply is obligated to public acess ,hoodwinked the stae legislature and has almost taken it away from us.[trb] The cable company planned to move PEG channels in Michigan into the 900 range, which would require subscribers to buy digital, cable-ready TVs or rent or buy a digital converter box for each analog set they own.[Cen01/15/08] Comcast Cable is a regulated monopoly essentially because at its inception they needed public property to string their cable, in exchange we got public access programing. By a state law slight of hands or campaign contributions the state legislature let them run away with our access to television. Ask a State Rep How did you let this happen?[ trb]

The nation's largest cable provider wanted to move the PEG channels to free up bandwidth so it could offer other services, including high definition stations, to customers paying premium rates.[Cen01/15/08]

"We want people that are Comcast customers to get mad ," Herring said. "Say, 'We're mad as hell, and we aren't going to take it anymore.'" [FJ011508]

Meridian was one of two communities that prevailed in U.S. District Court late Monday as Judge Victoria Roberts agreed to block Comcast from moving public, educational and governmental access (PEG) channels higher up the dial.[md01/16/08]

The court order was issued in response to a lawsuit filed Friday by Dearborn and Meridian Township in suburban Lansing. The communities said Comcast planned the change without consulting with the communities , in violation of state and federal law, and that up to 400,000 customers statewide who couldn’t afford to pay for a converter box would lose access to community news. The suit also charged that the communities would lose a vital way of communicating with residents [fp01/15/08]

The communities argued Comcast had planned the changes without consulting with local leaders, in violation of state and federal law, and that up to 400,000 customers in the state who couldn't pay for a converter box would lose access to the community stations. [md01/16/08]

A similar ruling was made by Macomb County Circuit Court Judge David Viviano Monday in a lawsuit brought by the city of Warren. A hearing on that issue will be held Jan. 22. [md01/16/08]

Comcast is evaluating its options after a federal judge on Monday imposed a temporary restraining order on the cable company’s plans to move community access channels higher up the dial, a move that would have made them unavailable to Michigan cable subscribers with analog televisions.[fp01/15/08] Communities throughout Michigan are being invited to help pay for a legal challenge against Comcast as several municipalities and the cable provider appear to be settling in for a lengthy court fight over access stations [md01/16/08]

Lawyers for those communities argued that Comcast planned the change without consulting with the communities, violating state and federal laws. They said the communities would lose an important way of communicating with residents.[Cen01/15/08]

“This proposal would have forced many Michigan consumers to pay additional fees to rent set-top boxes to receive the high-quality educational programming they are currently guaranteed with basic cable services," Dingell said in a written statement.[Cen01/15/08]

Herring is president of the Producers Association, a group of 140 -"about 15 or 20 are active," he said - who write, produce and film public access programs for Comcast [FJ011508]

Meridian Township near Lansing this week sent a letter to local communities requesting financial support for a federal lawsuit it filed and won a temporary order banning Comcast from making changes to the stations. [md01/16/08]

In December, Comcast ended local production statewide, eliminating the availability of studio space and equipment. Some producers, like Herring, are able to continue because they have their own equipment and studio. But many had to end their programs. [FJ011508]

A state judge and a federal judge have each ruled that Comcast cannot move community-access cable television channels higher up the dial and out of the reach of thousands of Michigan subscribers as it had hoped to do on Tuesday.[Cen01/15/08]

A federal judge in Detroit issued a similar ruling late Monday in a lawsuit filed by Dearborn and Ingham County's Meridian Township.[Cen01/15/08] "We lost about 30 producers that were using the studios," said Herring, adding he hosts or produces 10 programs. "There are about 50 producers left." [FJ011508]

"Macomb County Chief Circuit Judge David Viviano's temporary order, issued Monday, could affect 400,000 Comcast customers statewide. A hearing is set Jan. 22 on whether the order should become permanent.[Cen01/15/08]

Tapes of the new programs have to be delivered to an office in Southfield. [FJ011508] Beginning today, Comcast will air the various public, educational and governmental programs on 900-plus channels. [FJ011508]

"You have to have digital service or a free converter box to get the public access station at 916," Herring said. [FJ011508] Herring said the box is free for a year, and after that customers will be charged $4.20 a month. [FJ011508]

Monthly basic digital service that includes the 900 channels is about $55 a month. [FJ011508]

"Not everybody can afford that," Herring said. [FJ011508]

Satellite services do not offer public access channels. [FJ011508]

The Producers Association has posted an online petition that Herring hopes to present to legislators in an effort to force Comcast to secure public access in a way "that the poorest of us can get it free of charge [FJ011508]

Herring hopes to collect 26,000 signatures, a number he estimates to be 1 percent of Comcast statewide customers. [FJ011508]

"We would assume Comcast would treat everyone the same , but we have a long way to go before we reach the conclusion," said Warren City Attorney David Richards. [md01/16/08]

"Boycott in any way, shape or form," Herring said. "You can call Comcast and complain. If you can't cancel your service, then downgrade. Make a service call and then cancel it, or upgrade and then cancel. But do something." [FJ011508]

Patrick Paterno, director of communications for Comcast's Michigan region, said the majority of Michigan customers have advanced digital programming and use digital equipment. [FJ011508]

"Comcast will provide public education and government programming to nearly all of our 1.3 million Michigan customers in a high-quality digital format on the basic tier of service," Paterno said. [FJ011508]

"Additionally, these channels will be grouped together in a uniform fashion, making it easier for viewers to find them no matter where they are in the state." [FJ011508]

And U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said a subcommittee will hear testimony Jan. 29 on the provision of public, educational and governmental access programming, known as PEG.[Cen01/15/08]

Dingell said his committee applauded the decision to block Comcast's plan.[Cen01/15/08]

Comcast, which had offered to provide customers with a free converter box for one year, said it was disappointed with the court ruling and was reviewing its options.[Cen01/15/08]

A lawyer for the communities said Comcast's plans violate state and federal law.[fp01/15/08 ASHEN]

"These aren't channels they own," their attorney, Joe Van Eaton, also of Washington, D.C., told Roberts. "They're the communities' channels. "[fp01/15/08 ASHEN]

Comcast lawyer Scott disputed that Comcast's move would violate federal or state law, saying there are no statutes that allow communities to dictate where cable providers place PEG service. He also said Comcast, unlike its competitors, has provided free cable service to public schools in Michigan and that some of Comcast's competitors don't carry PEG channels.[fp01/15/08 ASHEN]

Scott also said the communities waited too long to ask for the injunction.[fp01/15/08 ASHEN]

"The cities have had 60 days and waited 55 before coming to court to stop this activity," he said. He said it's unfair to present a judge with such complicated legal and technical issues on such short notice.[fp01/15/08 ASHEN]

Comcast lawyer Robert Scott on Monday disputed that Comcast's move would violate federal or state law. He said the company has provided free cable service to public schools in Michigan and noted that some of its competitors don't offer PEG channels at all.[Cen01/15/08]

"The majority of our Michigan customers already enjoy our advanced digital programming and use digital equipment," Comcast spokesman Patrick Paterno said in a statement. "These (PEG) channels would be grouped together in a uniform fashion, making it easier for viewers to find them no matter where they are in the state."[Cen01/15/08]

"While we have been willing to front the associated costs to date, given that Comcast has elected to take a hard line on these issues, and because it appears we will soon be engaged in litigation with this mega international corporation, we are now asking" for assistance. [md01/16/08]

Comcast had planned on making changes to its channel lineup Tuesday. Subscribers with analog televisions would have to purchase digital cable-ready TV sets or rent a digital converter box from Comcast. [md01/16/08]

Comcast spokesman Patrick Paterno said in a statement the cable company was making the changes to make it easier for viewers to find the PEG channels and to offer more high-definition channels. [md01/16/08]

"We are disappointed with the court's actions and are evaluating our options," Paterno said in the statement. [md01/16/08]

Meridian Township indicated in its letter that it expects to spend more than $50,000 in litigation costs.[md01/16/08]

It's unclear whether the final federal and state court rulings will impact all of Comcast's member communities or just those who have filed legal challenges to the changes. [md01/16/08] In exchange, the township will share with participating cities and townships legal counsel and other advice on the controversy. [md01/16/08]

Herring's petition is available online at [FJ011508]

also see SAVE ACCESS

"Hopefully, this reminds Comcast of their obligation to all subscribers," said Meridian Township attorney Michael Watza of Detroit. "And the communities and Comcast can renew our partnership that we've enjoyed for so many years."[fp01/15/08 ASHEN]

Posted here by Terry Bankert

posted to Flint Talk
Save Acess blog
Flint Citizen Face Book(Flint MI)
Could someone post to MLIVE I cannot.
-----CITES----- [FJ011508] THE FLINT JOURNAL FIRST EDITIONTuesday, January 15, 2008 By Brenda Brissette • 810.766.6361 --- [Cen01/15/08] 01/15/08 --- [md01/16/08] PUBLISHED: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 Communities may combine cash in legal battle against Comcast Towns oppose higher numbers for local access channels By Mitch Hotts Macomb Daily Staff Writer --- [fp01/15/08] Comcast weighs options after judge restrains access-channel change January 15, 2008 By ZACHARY GORCHOW FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER --- [fp01/15/08 ASHEN] Comcast channel changes on hold 1. Court steps in amid public access concernsJanuary 15, 2008 BY DAVID ASHENFELTER FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER --- [trb] Comments of Terry Bankert 32616

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