Boulant: ‘Not a community issue a Time Warner issue’
Glenville officials are warming up to the idea of paying for public access programming through Open Stage Media, but ongoing negotiations with Time Warner could delay the switch for several months.
Phillip Morris, CEO of Proctors, met with the Glenville Town Board during the work session meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 9, to discuss the town joining Open Stage Media and paying an annual fee of $5,000 toward services provided by the public access television group. While town officials deliberated if the signal switch, estimated to cost $12,000, and annual fee are worth the services provided by Open Stage Media, the looming franchise agreement with Time Warner is ultimately holding up any change in the near future for residents to view government meetings on their TVs.
Our goal was to make this a countywide network and have all three channels available to as many citizens in the county as possible, said Morris. `When the Time Warner deal came to a near close I came back and said, ‘Guys, you haven’t designated us as the public access provider and there is no funding for us to be the public access provider, and we should do something about it because it is not reasonable or fair.’`
Currently, the only municipality contributing to Open Stage Media, which is run through Proctors, is the City of Schenectady, which is also the government body that decided to switch from the previous SACC-TV to provide public access programming for Schenectady County. OSM’s annual budget is around $120,000, with $100,000 coming from city subscriber fees and the rest raised primarily through donations. Morris said he believed the City Council had the right to make the switch because it was the only municipality in the county that funded or designated OSM as its public access provider.
`This is a 20-year-old problem that I am trying to correct, so the bad-guy news for me is do I continue to let this 20-year-old problem go on or do I fix it, so I am trying to fix it,` said Morris. `It was defined by somebody as a community system, but it wasn’t funded as a community system.`
Town Supervisor Christopher Koetzle denied it was a 20-year-old problem and said it was the City Council that created it.
`I think it was a problem created by the Schenectady City Council when they made the decision unilaterally to change,` said Koetzle. `It wasn’t a problem before it went to Open Stage Media; it worked.`
Other municipalities aren’t being excluded from the same ultimatum though, because Morris said he has shared the same proposal with the towns of Niskayuna and Rotterdam and the Village of Scotia. If any municipality doesn’t pay the fee then they will be cut, said Morris, which will allow subscribers to view programming but not contribute.
`It is unbelievably modest by comparison to what the city of Schenectady subscribers pay,` said Morris. `The Town of Niskayuna has viewed it quite positively, and the Town of Rotterdam ` I have not yet been able to complete conversations.`
He has also talked to Scotia Mayor Kris Kastberg, whom had hoped to be included in the town’s agreement, but Morris said the village has a separate franchise contract with Time Warner so they would have to pay their own fee to OSM.
To make the move
`I think the proposal is reasonable, but there is a wrinkle to it,` said Koetzle.
The hurdle of moving the signals for channels 17 and 18 out of Saratoga County is a $12,000 cost no other municipality has to pay, said Koetzle. If the town stayed with the Saratoga-based service then it would be free and the recordings would have to be sent there to be broadcast, although subscribers would not be able to view County Legislature or other municipalities’ meetings. Also, the discussed town website upgrades to start streaming videos of meetings online would cost less than $5,000.
`I think that is an ample investment into the system that the other towns do not have to make and will not have to make and I believe that’s our, if we go forward, contribution to making that system better stronger and more viable,` said Koetzle about the cost to move the signals.
Morris said infrastructure upgrades are separate from the cost of running the service, so the town would still have to pay the $5,000 service fee. He noted that Schenectady invested $35,000 to upgrade its infrastructure, but the cost was separate from what is paid for the service.
`While I appreciate the investment to infrastructure to make a countywide system ` I get that ` but at the same time, what we are saying is it takes a lot of money to make it operate, to make it happen,` said Morris.
Councilman Alan Boulant questioned what exactly the costs are associated with moving the signal and if it was as simple as the `flip of a switch.` James MacFarland, director of operations for the town, said the cost is associated with equipment that will need to be purchased to perform the transfer and upgrade, because Time Warner’s system is more advanced than when the signal based out of Saratoga was set up around 20 years ago.
Morris said there are relay devices that go into a rack and have to be separated where the channels come from and go to. How much that exactly costs, he wasn’t sure.
`Is it $12,000? I couldn’t speak to that, but I know it is not just flipping a switch,` said Morris.
Another ‘wrinkle’ in the plan
MacFarland said there is still another wrinkle in the plan to switch to Open Stage Media even after the signals are moved.
`Let’s say we moved our signals to be Schenectady-based, but then we are not able to reach an agreement with Open Stage Media. Time Warner still is obligated to find a way to show public, educational and governmental content coming out of Glenville to Glenville people,` said MacFarland. `That is an unanswered question on how Time Warner would accomplish that.`
Time Warner chooses to call all of Schenectady County `The System,` said MacFarland, but as a result of calling the larger county area a system and entering an agreement with the City Council for OSM to provide public access programming and control the system it would lock out the town from participating in the system Time Warner has designated.
`If Time Warner is defining OSM as ‘the system’ and we are frozen out of that system, because nobody predicated that on financial support we would be disenfranchised unless Time Warner found another solution for us to get on 16, because OSM is no longer shown in Glenville and it becomes the Glenville station,` said Koetzle.
Boulant thought many of the problems were stemming from Time Warner.
`To me this is not a community issue, this is a Time Warner issue,` said Boulant. `Why isn’t Time Warner paying for all of this?`
Getting what you pay for
If the switch to OSM was made, Morris laid out the benefits the town would get through the $5,000 fee.
`Television and the Internet are going to become the same thing and we’re wanting to move in that direction,` said Morris.
The town could bring any of the materials to be shown on the station and training would be provided to Glenville residents to use equipment in the studio and smaller `soap box` studio for interviews, shows and presentations. Each of the three channels is also planned to have a paid coordinator to help expand public access programming. These coordinators could also help with technical issues municipalities run into, said Morris. There is also the possibility to broadcast meetings live on the Internet. An update to date archive would also be maintained on OSM’s webpage, so residents could view past meetings.
Also, each municipality participating in OSM would be represented on the `Cable Council,` which would meet to negotiate time frames and programming schedules, so that a fair agreement is reached between all parties.
`The intent is to operate as all equals even though Schenectady is going to be the bulk payer here,` said Morris.
Going forward, OSM is looking at ways to utilize the Internet, such as allowing school and government officials to tweet updates to be broadcasted on a banner across channels.
`There is no added benefit in service, that is the difference,` said Morris about the town relying on Time Warner or Saratoga. `We’re are going to be adding benefits and services on a continuous basis.`
Earlier in the meeting Koetzle expressed he isn’t sure if he can justify leaving the free public access offering.
`You have to ask is it worth against a system that is already built and there,` said Koetzle. `I haven’t come to terms with that in my head.“