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TruthToTell, Mon.,Oct 3@9AM: CABLE ACCESS: Media Whipping Child?

Date: 
Mon, 10/03/2011 - 9:00am

WATCH this week's program HERE.

HELP US BRING YOU THESE IMPORTANT DISCUSSIONS OF COMMUNITY INTEREST – PLEASE DONATE HERE.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty years ago, Minnesota was immersed in what was then called the cable wars.

Before cable television came along – and most people born after 1980 barely remember this – all television programming was limited to whatever your feeble antennas, be they the old rabbit ears on top of your television sets or a rooftop structure, pulled in a very few available number of channels for family viewing. The Twin Cities had four VHF outlets and a couple of UHF stations. The cable wars descended on all urban centers mostly during 1978 and 1979, and the Twin Cities was as hot a market as it got for helping to select a cable company to haul in more than 50 or 60 channels at the time – many more came later – a money-making machine for the selected company, if ever there was one.

Much of the history of this episodic adventure is detailed on Andy’s blog at TruthToTell.org/Blog, so we won’t wax on about that here - but needless to say, it was a political and financial brouhaha the likes of which had probably never been seen in these parts before. Politicians and city fathers and well-heeled business people were in the thick of the money and influence-peddling to win the heady competition for those exclusive franchises to wire the cities and suburbs for the multitude of services we now take for granted – like HBO, Showtime, CNN, C-SPAN, ESPN, Fox Cable and MSNBC, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel and everything in between and beyond.

Along with all those commercial channels cable companies offered were a half-dozen or so channels devoted to public, educational and government use – PEG services or channels. They were given over to communities after local activists and nonprofits raised hell about the license to print money this new technology would bring to the winning cable corporations. Elected officials, courted and cajoled by untold numbers of contributors and business types, as well, rose to the hue and cry and, with the help of city franchise consultants, extracted promises of money, equipment and channels to use for bringing otherwise unheard community voices into homes and institutions throughout a given city service area.

But cable companies agreed to what they viewed as blackmail through gritted teeth and promised the moon to each franchise authority – that is, a city or group of cities, usually councils or groups of elected officials – in return for the nod to put up their lucrative cable systems.

Thus were created public cable access authorities of several varieties, some independent, some controlled by city cable regulators, some by city councils, aided by a now-defunct state cable communications commission organized to prescribe the way franchise agreements could be drawn, including the provision of cable access services.

But real cable access often means the airing of free-speech programs that may well criticize those same local authorities. even as those same authorities now broadcast their hearings meetings live over their very own government channels. Discontented citizens get a chance to shoot and air their own shows, some of which make the public and councilors cringe. In Minneapolis, where the cable access corporation is controlled almost directly by the City Council, despite having its own board of directors, some cable programs have gone for the official jugular on a fairly regular basis – rankling those same elected officials and rattling the cages of other city officials.

Not for the first time, but perhaps not so violently, the Minneapolis Mayor’s Budget, and some on the City Council, seem hell-bent on slicing and dicing the city’s own cable access group – the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network, or MTN. Recent articles in the local papers and online peg (pardon the pun) the recommended cut at $250,000, no small chunk – 40%, to be sure – of MTN’s total budget of just over $700,000. Will the Minneapolis City Council restore the budget? And can MTN be put on a more independent footing, able to develop resources beyond the franchise and PEG fees now subject to the city's largesse? What can YOU do about this? Listen in below.

TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and KATEY DeCELLE talk with several of those in charge of and affected by MTN’s operations as well as some comparing MTN to the St. Paul Neighborhood Network's (SPNN) arrangement with that city and its Comcast company (also the Minneapolis supplier now).

Andy's Blog: CABLE ACCESS: Media Whipping Child? - The Long Background

To watch or hear TruthToTell's program on this topic of funding cable access which aired live on October 3rd, click HERE.

In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, a fairly large number of cable companies were suddenly formed to provide cable television service to large urban areas. Technology innovations and the new, vastly expanded numbers of channels and cable programming capacity spawned an explosion in the highly profitable business of providing television shows of ever widening varieties to the densely populated urban centers. For years, cable (or CATV) was a creature of remote rural areas where over-the-air television signals from distant broadcasters simply could not be pulled in with home television sets alone. They needed very high towers and antennas to receive those signals then retransmit them to small town residences.

This was a technological gold rush that meant billions in future revenues as entertainment and information channel multiplied exponentially. Cable companies came forward in great quantities, hiring local politicians and influential citizens by the thousands to represent them or lobby for their selection as a given city’s or city cluster’s exclusive vendor to wire the urban core and beyond. Some states quickly passed laws to regulate them.

The huge potential for these massive money-making machines in all the major cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, created a tidal wave of applications from cable operators to string their coaxial cables up and down the rights of way just as telephone companies and electric utilities had nearly a century earlier. That meant a major pay-off to cities or groups of cities or suburbs through the franchise fees collected from using those rights of way, fees similar to those also paid by the other utilities.

Such a latent revenue windfall to local coffers also brought community communications  advocates out of the woodwork and into the highly competitive and money-loaded franchising process. Most of the franchising agreements offered by cable companies promised copious amounts of money, equipment and numbers of channels for public, educational and governmental access. Cities hired cable administrators and created cable communications departments.

That the promise of a tidal wave of community programming and hundreds of access producers in thousands of local institutions was thwarted by a variety of problems confronting the organizations and cities overseeing their governance, operation and production capabilities was but one cluster of barriers to real access.

But local egos and power manipulations among interested groups were nothing compared to the relative immediacy of many large cable operators across the urban and metropolitan landscape suddenly challenging their young franchise agreements in court as imposing on their First Amendment rights to operate without regulation at all. They quickly saw just how much more money they could make if they weren’t saddled with keeping their own promises to put money, equipment and studios into the hands of common citizens or to give up lucrative channels to non-paying customers.

The industry spent millions seeking nullification of their regulatory shackles at the city level, especially. Some courts concurred. Others did not, but the upshot was that the reins of control AND of at least some access channels among the hundreds of others earning billions for local cable companies and their exclusive right to pipe increasingly expensive signals throughout the city, began slipping away, much as broadcasting became deregulated under the FCC. Cable companies also merged by the dozens, creating about three or four huge cable conglomerates, like Comcast here in Minnesota. Not much is owned by anyone else around here.

Of course, real access meant shackle-free programs – programs presenting individual opinions or sometimes tasteless shows, some quite offensive to some viewer sensibilities. And some went after the very elected officials who control access budgets or franchise fee distributions each year – sort of biting the hand, as it were.

But not all. Some institutions – like those in education, faith communities and labor – set up regularly produced and widely viewed programs of instruction or commentary or services. Cities themselves have created elaborate cable telecasting operations – feeding their designated channels with city council and committee meetings and public hearings.

And most cable access corporations – like Minneapolis Telecommunications Network – or MTN - and St. Paul Neighborhood Network (or SPNN) – wound up taking over franchise-mandated local origination, or community programming duties the cable companies themselves gladly gave up – the professional side of cable access.

Urban and suburban cable access nonprofits have toiled in  the trenches under increasing pressure to cut back, even though cities based their franchise approvals on the very idea that community channels and production facilities would be provided. With much distance – 30 years in some cases – twixt cup and the lip – between original franchise agreements and today. Despite continued attempts at deregulating local cable, franchise fees have held or increased while cable access funding has retreated, leaving cable access organizations to fend more and more for themselves, mostly through grants and user fees – assessed nonprofits who want the cable access group to produce programs or provide studio time and talent to do so themselves.

Minneapolis is one city where the purse strings are in solid control of the mayor and city council, essentially making MTN a city department, subject to the political whims of its overseers almost as much as its appropriation. If powerful city politicians wish to express their disdain for an entity like MTN which allows First-Amendment-protected criticism or R-Rated content to air, they may well – and perhaps have – made it tougher and tougher for MTN to live up to its mission as giving voice to its many community voices – some of which are the voices of discontent with the status quo in City Hall.

TruthToTell, Mon.,Oct 3@9AM: CABLE ACCESS: Media Whipping Child? - KFAI FM 90.3/106.7/KFAI.org

TRUTHTOTELL, MON.,OCT 3@9AM: CABLE ACCESS: MEDIA WHIPPING CHILD? - KFAI FM 90.3/106.7/KFAI.ORG

IN THE LATE 1970’S AND EARLY 80’S, A FAIRLY LARGE NUMBER OF CABLE COMPANIES WERE SUDDENLY FORMED TO PROVIDE CABLE TELEVISION SERVICE TO LARGE URBAN AREAS. TECHNOLOGY INNOVATIONS AND THE NEW, VASTLY EXPANDED NUMBERS OF CHANNELS AND CABLE PROGRAMMING CAPACITY SPAWNED AN EXPLOSION IN THE HIGHLY PROFITABLE BUSINESS OF PROVIDING TELEVISION SHOWS OF EVER WIDENING VARIETIES TO THE DENSELY POPULATED URBAN CENTERS. FOR YEARS, CABLE (OR CATV) WAS A CREATURE OF REMOTE RURAL AREAS WHERE OVER-THE-AIR TELEVISION SIGNALS FROM DISTANT BROADCASTERS SIMPLY COULD NOT BE PULLED IN WITH HOME TELEVISION SETS ALONE. THEY NEEDED VERY HIGH TOWERS AND ANTENNAS TO RECEIVE THOSE SIGNALS THEN RETRANSMIT THEM TO SMALL TOWN RESIDENCES.

THIS WAS A TECHNOLOGICAL GOLD RUSH THAT MEANT BILLIONS IN FUTURE REVENUES AS ENTERTAINMENT AND INFORMATION CHANNEL MULTIPLIED EXPONENTIALLY. CABLE COMPANIES CAME FORWARD IN GREAT QUANTITIES, HIRING LOCAL POLITICIANS AND INFLUENTIAL CITIZENS BY THE THOUSANDS TO REPRESENT THEM OR LOBBY FOR THEIR SELECTION AS A GIVEN CITY’S OR CITY CLUSTER’S EXCLUSIVE VENDOR TO WIRE THE URBAN CORE AND BEYOND. SOME STATES QUICKLY PASSED LAWS TO REGULATE THEM.

THE HUGE POTENTIAL FOR THESE MASSIVE MONEY-MAKING MACHINES IN ALL THE MAJOR CITIES, INCLUDING MINNEAPOLIS AND ST. PAUL, CREATED A TIDAL WAVE OF APPLICATIONS FROM CABLE OPERATORS TO STRING THEIR COAXIAL CABLES UP AND DOWN THE RIGHTS OF WAY JUST AS TELEPHONE COMPANIES AND ELECTRIC UTILITIES HAD NEARLY A CENTURY EARLIER. THAT MEANT A MAJOR PAY-OFF TO CITIES OR GROUPS OF CITIES OR SUBURBS THROUGH THE FRANCHISE FEES COLLECTED FROM USING THOSE RIGHTS OF WAY, FEES SIMILAR TO THOSE ALSO PAID BY THE OTHER UTILITIES.

AND MOST CABLE ACCESS CORPORATIONS – LIKE MINNEAPOLIS TELECOMMUNICATIONS NETWORK – OR MTN - AND ST. PAUL NEIGHBORHOOD NETWORK (SPNN) – WOUND UP TAKING OVER FRANCHISE-MANDATED LOCAL ORIGINATION, OR COMMUNITY PROGRAMMING DUTIES THE CABLE COMPANIES THEMSELVES GLADLY GAVE UP – THE PROFESSIONAL SIDE OF CABLE ACCESS.

URBAN AND SUBURBAN CABLE ACCESS NONPROFITS HAVE TOILED IN THE TRENCHES UNDER INCREASING PRESSURE TO CUT BACK, EVEN THOUGH CITIES BASED THEIR FRANCHISE APPROVALS ON THE VERY IDEA THAT COMMUNITY CHANNELS AND PRODUCTION FACILITIES WOULD BE PROVIDED. WITH MUCH DISTANCE – 30 YEARS IN SOME CASES – TWIXT CUP AND THE LIP – BETWEEN ORIGINAL FRANCHISE AGREEMENTS AND TODAY. DESPITE CONTINUED ATTEMPTS AT DEREGULATING LOCAL CABLE, FRANCHISE FEES HAVE HELD OR INCREASED WHILE CABLE ACCESS FUNDING HAS RETREATED, LEAVING CABLE ACCESS ORGANIZATIONS TO FEND MORE AND MORE FOR THEMSELVES, MOSTLY THROUGH GRANTS AND USER FEES – ASSESSED NONPROFITS WHO WANT THE CABLE ACCESS GROUP TO PRODUCE PROGRAMS OR PROVIDE STUDIO TIME AND TALENT TO DO SO THEMSELVES.

MINNEAPOLIS IS ONE CITY WHERE THE PURSE STRINGS ARE IN SOLID CONTROL OF THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL, ESSENTIALLY MAKING MTN A CITY DEPARTMENT, SUBJECT TO THE POLITICAL WHIMS OF ITS OVERSEERS ALMOST AS MUCH AS ITS APPROPRIATION. IF POWERFUL CITY POLITICIANS WISH TO EXPRESS THEIR DISDAIN FOR AN ENTITY LIKE MTN WHICH ALLOWS FIRST-AMENDMENT-PROTECTED CRITICISM OR R-RATED CONTENT TO AIR, THEY MAY WELL – AND PERHAPS HAVE – MADE IT TOUGHER AND TOUGHER FOR MTN TO LIVE UP TO ITS MISSION AS GIVING VOICE TO ITS MANY COMMUNITY VOICES – SOME OF WHICH ARE THE VOICES OF DISCONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO IN CITY HALL.

THINGS ARE A BIT DIFFERENT IN ST. PAUL, AND WE’LL TALK ABOUT HOW AS WE EXPLORE WHETHER THE PROPOSED MINNEAPOLIS BUDGET’S $250,000 SLICE OUT OF MTN’S BUDGET IS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED OR OTHERWISE JUSTIFIED.

TTT’S ANDY DRISCOLL AND MICHELLE ALIMORADI TALK WITH SEVERAL OF THOSE AFFECTED AND IN CHARGE OF MTN’S OPERATIONS AS WELL AS COMPARING MTN TO SPNN IN ST. PAUL.

GUESTS:

GARY SCHIFF – MINNEAPOLIS WARD 9 CITY COUNCILMEMBER & CHAIR, CITY COUNCIL WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE

PAM COLBY – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MINNEAPOLIS TELECOMMUNICATIONS NETWORK (MTN)

FARHIO KHALIS – PROGRAM PRODUCER, MTN

MIKE WASSENAAR – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ST. PAUL NEIGHBORHOOD NETWORK (SPNN)

ROBERT J. V. VOSE – ATTORNEY, KENNEDY & GRAVEN, CHARTERED, LOCAL GOVERNMENT TELECOMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST; FORMER MTN BOARD MEMBER

FIRST PERSON RADIO-SEP 28: LARRY LONG: TROUBADOUR-VOICE OF JUSTICE - LISTEN HERE


FIRST PERSON RADIO'S LAURA WATERMAN WITTSTOCK TALKS WITH LARRY LONG, EXTRAORDINARY COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN WHO HAS BEEN PART OF THE INDIAN COMMUNITY FOR DECADES. HIS MUSIC AND ABILITY TO ENGAGE INDIAN CHILDREN IN SONG MAKING ARE LEGENDARY. LARRY WILL TALK ABOUT HIS LIFE AND WORK, AND INTRODUCE HIS NEW RELEASE: "DON'T STAND STILL."

LARRY LONG, CALLED "A TRUE AMERICAN TROUBADOUR" BY AUTHOR STUDS TERKEL, HAS MADE HIS LIFE WORK THE CELEBRATION OF AMERICAN STORIES AND HEROES. IN A CURRICULUM CALLED ELDERS’ WISDOM, CHILDREN’S SONG,™ HE HAS BROUGHT THESE HEROES TO THE CLASSROOM TO SHARE THEIR ORAL HISTORY WITH OUR YOUNGER GENERATION. THE CHILDREN THEN GO ON TO CREATE SONGS AND LYRICAL WORK THAT CELEBRATE THE HISTORY AND TRIUMPHS OF THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES AND LEARN IN THE PROCESS TO HONOR THE STRUGGLES OF DIFFERENT CULTURES.

"LARRY LONG IS DOING WHAT MORE SINGERS AND SONGWRITERS 
SHOULD BE DOING: USING MUSIC TO HELP PEOPLE LEARN 
TO WORK TOGETHER, AND BRING A WORLD OF PEACE."  —PETE SEEGER

NOW A SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS RECORDING ARTIST, LARRY HAS SUNG AT MAJOR FESTIVALS, CONCERTS AND EVENTS THROUGHOUT THE U.S. AND INTERNATIONALLY. LONG IS A RECIPIENT OF THE PRESTIGIOUS BUSH ARTISTS FELLOWSHIP, THE POPE JOHN XXIII AWARD AND IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE AWARD; AND A PARENT’S CHOICE AWARD FOR PRODUCING WITH THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, I WILL BE YOUR FRIEND, A SONGS AND ACTIVITIES BOOK FOR YOUNG PEACEMAKERS.

HE HAS WORKED IN SOUTHERN RURAL COMMUNITIES COMBINING BLACK, WHITE, NATIVE AMERICAN AND LATIN STORIES. IN THE MID-1980S HE ASSEMBLED THE FIRST HOMETOWN TRIBUTE TO WOODY GUTHRIE IN OKEMAH, OKLAHOMA, WHICH TODAY HAS EVOLVED INTO A LARGE, FREE FESTIVAL WITH AN ARRAY OF ESTABLISHED AND UPCOMING ARTISTS.

LARRY'S NEW RELEASE IS AVAILABLE AT HTTP://WWW.LARRYLONG.ORG/.


TruthToTell Oct 3: CABLE ACCESS: Media Whipping Child? - Listen Below

On-air date: 
Mon, 10/03/2011

WATCH this week's program HERE.

HELP US BRING YOU THESE IMPORTANT DISCUSSIONS OF COMMUNITY INTEREST – PLEASE DONATE HERE.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thirty years ago, Minnesota was immersed in what was then called the cable wars.

Before cable television came along – and most people born after 1980 barely remember this – all television programming was limited to whatever your feeble antennas, be they the old rabbit ears on top of your television sets or a rooftop structure, pulled in a very few available number of channels for family viewing. The Twin Cities had four VHF outlets and a couple of UHF stations. The cable wars descended on all urban centers mostly during 1978 and 1979, and the Twin Cities was as hot a market as it got for helping to select a cable company to haul in more than 50 or 60 channels at the time – many more came later – a money-making machine for the selected company, if ever there was one.

Much of the history of this episodic adventure is detailed on Andy’s blog at TruthToTell.org/Blog, so we won’t wax on about that here - but needless to say, it was a political and financial brouhaha the likes of which had probably never been seen in these parts before. Politicians and city fathers and well-heeled business people were in the thick of the money and influence-peddling to win the heady competition for those exclusive franchises to wire the cities and suburbs for the multitude of services we now take for granted – like HBO, Showtime, CNN, C-SPAN, ESPN, Fox Cable and MSNBC, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel and everything in between and beyond.

Along with all those commercial channels cable companies offered were a half-dozen or so channels devoted to public, educational and government use – PEG services or channels. They were given over to communities after local activists and nonprofits raised hell about the license to print money this new technology would bring to the winning cable corporations. Elected officials, courted and cajoled by untold numbers of contributors and business types, as well, rose to the hue and cry and, with the help of city franchise consultants, extracted promises of money, equipment and channels to use for bringing otherwise unheard community voices into homes and institutions throughout a given city service area.

But cable companies agreed to what they viewed as blackmail through gritted teeth and promised the moon to each franchise authority – that is, a city or group of cities, usually councils or groups of elected officials – in return for the nod to put up their lucrative cable systems.

Thus were created public cable access authorities of several varieties, some independent, some controlled by city cable regulators, some by city councils, aided by a now-defunct state cable communications commission organized to prescribe the way franchise agreements could be drawn, including the provision of cable access services.

But real cable access often means the airing of free-speech programs that may well criticize those same local authorities. even as those same authorities now broadcast their hearings meetings live over their very own government channels. Discontented citizens get a chance to shoot and air their own shows, some of which make the public and councilors cringe. In Minneapolis, where the cable access corporation is controlled almost directly by the City Council, despite having its own board of directors, some cable programs have gone for the official jugular on a fairly regular basis – rankling those same elected officials and rattling the cages of other city officials.

Not for the first time, but perhaps not so violently, the Minneapolis Mayor’s Budget, and some on the City Council, seem hell-bent on slicing and dicing the city’s own cable access group – the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network, or MTN. Recent articles in the local papers and online peg (pardon the pun) the recommended cut at $250,000, no small chunk – 40%, to be sure – of MTN’s total budget of just over $700,000. Will the Minneapolis City Council restore the budget? And can MTN be put on a more independent footing, able to develop resources beyond the franchise and PEG fees now subject to the city's largesse? What can YOU do about this? Listen in below.

TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and KATEY DeCELLE talk with several of those in charge of and affected by MTN’s operations as well as some comparing MTN to the St. Paul Neighborhood Network's (SPNN) arrangement with that city and its Comcast company (also the Minneapolis supplier now).

GUESTS:

GARY SCHIFF – Minneapolis Ward 9 City Councilmember & Chair, City Council Ways & Means Committee

PAM COLBY – Executive Director, Minneapolis Telecommunications Network (MTN)

MIKE WASSENAAR – Executive Director, St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN)

ROBERT J. V. VOSE – Attorney, Kennedy & Graven, Chartered, Local Government Telecommunications Specialist; former MTN Board Member


45:26 minutes (41.59 MB)

May5: SPECIAL REPORT/DISCUSSION on Supreme Court Ruling Negating Gov. Pawlenty's "Unallotments"

On-air date: 
Wed, 05/05/2010

LISTEN BELOW as Rep. John Lesch and reporters Mike McIntee and Marty Owings take stock of the the ruling's fallout.

Our scheduled topic was preempted this week as TruthToTell beat all other local media to the punch talking about the Minnesota State Supreme Court's 4-3 decision nullifying Gov. Tim Pawlenty's attempt to cut state spending using unallotment. The majority (Chief Justice Eric Magnuson with Justices Alan PagePaul Anderson and Helen Meyer; dissenting were Justices G. Barry AndersonLorie Skjerven Gildea, and Christopher Dietzen) upheld the Ramsey County District Court in ruling that Pawlenty had, indeed, exceeded his authority in unalloting funds for programs he otherwise approved in the original budget, thus circumventing the Constitutionally guaranteed legislative budgeting process.

Listen to this wide-ranging discussion of the fallout from that ruling on state politics and governance from here on out as all sides struggle with lingering deficits and a governor (backed by Republicans in both houses) who refuses absolutely to consider revenue-raising as part of the solution in this last year of his last term in the office and off to campaign for President of the US.


58:11 minutes (26.64 MB)