Debating Channel 3
December 23rd 2011 · 1 Comment
UTICA PHOENIX NEWS
Who should control the media? That seems to be the question that the City of Utica, along with the Utica School District, is attempting to answer.
The media in question is not the entirety of local media but the operation and control of Channel 3 — the Utica School District’s long-operated public broadcast station. Early in 2010, the Utica Common Council formed the Public Access TV Committee in order to tackle a number of issues, including the negotiation of a new television franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable. The debate of the station, which was developed as a public access, government, and education channel, has grown, with both sides raising relevant points as to the terms of its use, and its ultimate fate.
“Our kids have lost so much. We don’t want them to lose one more thing. Especially such a substantial program as this is. We take so much away from them. There have been cuts to sports and other programs, and we’re paid less than any other district in the state, yet we’re the only growing district,” said Christopher Salatino, President of the Utica School Board.
According to Salatino, the Utica School District has had control of Channel 3 for over 25 years, ever since then-provider Harron Cable, passed the Channel on to the Utica School District when the City passed on having their own station.
“Since Harron supplied us with the channel, we have invested heavily in equipment and time and it has evolved into a substantial learning tool for the district over the years,” he said.
And while Salatino understands that the City of Utica has interest in its own station presently, he questions why they chose now as the time to make this a priority.
“We asked them not to ratify the contract with Time Warner until we are part of the negotiations for a new contract. Time Warner doesn’t want us at the negotiating table because they will have to give us a director, and more equipment because of the time we have in and the programming in place.”
“We get a letter from Councilman Vescera, requesting Channel 3 be brought back to City Hall. The City is currently in negotiations with Time Warner. The [Utica School] District was not allowed at the table.”
A Programming Question
One of the major issues with the debate of Channel 3 seems to lie in its intended programming – namely governmental programming – being broadcast. Quoting the New York State Public Service Commission, Councilman Frank Vescera pointed out that “The Educational & Governmental Access Channel shall be operated and administered by a committee (or a commission appointed by local government) and shall include appropriate representation of local school districts within the service area of the cable television system, and may include for purposes of coordination an employee or representative of the cable television franchisee.”
Vescera went on to discuss two options in the broadcast programming of Channel 3:
1 – Governmental and Education access programming would be combined onto one channel, Channel 3. The programming schedule would be determined by one committee, comprised of one School District Representative, one City Administration Representative, and five Council Representatives.
Vescera added that Time Warner Cable has agreed to pay the costs associated with the sharing and switching of equipment needed at City Hall for the shared channel to exist and operate.
2 – If programming usage warrants, Time Warner has agreed to create a second station, solely for the airing of Educational material, as long as department rules are followed for the placement of the additional access channel on a tier apart from a basic level of service.
“The Utica School District Officials maintain the district qualifies for Option #2 and we support their pursuit of that goal if it indeed does meet the requirements of NYS Rules & Guidelines and your company’s policies,” Vescera said.
Vescera also added that School Board President Salatino was asked to be included in the process.
“Utica School Board President Chris Salatino was personally invited, weeks ago, to bring along his committee to meet with New York State, Time Warner and City Council members to discuss the matter,” Vescera said. “He refused and stated he would seek legal options.”
A Question of Service
In the end, the battle over Channel 3 may come down to the definition of what is required out of an agency as a broadcast entity. Christopher Salatino feels that the Utica School District has earned its right as a broadcast entity, even if the City, or others, haven’t accepted it.
“One of the requirements as broadcast entity is that we have to have a cross section committee. Ours is already established. It includes SUNY Institute of Technology, BOCES, Utica College, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, and committee members from the general public.” He also added, “We requested representatives from city but never got any.
“When I mentioned some of this in Caucus [before Monday, Dec. 19th’s Common Council meeting] it got a little heated in there. The City wants to take it [Channel 3]. Councilmen Jim Zecca and Frank Vescera made up the committee. I don’t know who else is involved. But the contract hasn’t been ratified in 2 years. This is a stumbling block, as we were originally at the table.”
As the year comes to a close, decisions will have to be reached regarding Channel 3, and all whom the changes could affect.
“Our intent is to invite Board President Salatino and Utica School District officials once again to meet with New York Sate and Time Warner officials along with Council members to address the misunderstandings and move forward with a new contract,” Vescera said. “Hopefully they will accept our invitation, which would be in the best interests of the community.
By Mark Ziobro