City Clerk Amy Kirkland gave the Owosso City Council a recommendation for the Monday, July 20, meeting for the city to cease the city’s cablecasting “on Charter Cable channel 187 as of Aug. 1, 2015, release the return path back to Charter Communications, and sign an agreement reserving the channel for future use. That was approved by the council.
“Just before the July 4 holiday I received a phone call from Charter Communications politely asking the city to vacate its use of the return path the city uses to send the signal for cable access channel 187 to the head end on Delaney Road (the head end is the point at which we insert the city signal into the cable system for broadcast, the return path is the means we use to get our signal to the head end).
“Several years back Charter notified the city this would be happening and the time for the handover has now arrived as customer usage of the system is sufficiently high enough that the bandwidth the city consumes to transmit the cable access signal to the head end is causing a slowdown of Internet speeds during peak times.
“The return path the city uses is a part of Charter’s cable network and belongs to Charter. Upon surrendering this return path, the city will not be able to continue to provide any sort of cable access programming without significant investment. Upon receiving the original notification, I sought legal advice whether Charter could take the return path back under the Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act of 2006. Legal counsel specializing in the cable field stated a return path was not required, but the city might negotiate a side contract with Charter for use of the line. When approached with this suggestion, Charter said it was not legally responsible for providing a return path and was not interested in ‘renting’ the line as they intended to use the bandwidth used by the line to support the services they provide to the community.
“We explored other options, including paying Charter to install a new return path and the possibility of delivering the signal to the head end via the Internet. Installing a new return path was cost prohibitive (quoted at more than $22,000 in 2012 for just the installation and the purchase of additional transmission equipment would be required). Delivery of our cable signal via the Internet seemed the most advantageous, though not without cost. A spreadsheet is available at the city clerk’s office outlining options if the city wants continued cable access.
“As I have stated in the past, and with all due respect to those that fought so hard to keep the cable access channel alive, I wonder if the time for cable access has come and gone. I believe the cost to benefit ratio for it has become so lopsided that it is no longer a prudent investment of taxpayer funds. Overall interest in the channel has dwindled to the point where only one or two folks contribute programming, volunteers expressing an interest in running the channel are almost non-existent, and we receive little-to-no feedback from people showing that they watch the channel.
“Considering the one-time equipment cost to continue broadcasting, the ongoing costs for an Internet connection to transmit our signal, and the staff time involved in administering the channel vs. the number of folks that watch the channel, I cannot see continuing. The city can execute an agreement that would maintain the right to ask for the channel back in the future.
“Fiscal impacts: In light of Charter’s request to take the return path back, the council faces several decisions as I see them and costs will vary based on those decisions: Initial cost, on-going costs, staff time; also, Do you want to maintain a public access channel(s) on cable TV?
“To replace the return path, broadcast one channel would be $26,350; High.” She included the analysis if the council wanted to continue the use of the cable and “replace return path, broadcast two channels, costing $30,400; High.” Another would be to “Create a new Internet return path, broadcast one channel, $6,100 with ongoing costs $800; High.” Another being to “create new Internet return path, broadcast two channels, $13,000 with ongoing costs $2,400: High.”
She also included the alternative of ending use of the Charter system and added: “Should we cease broadcasting on cable TV and establish a City-only YouTube channel, costing $ 11,000; High. Utilize hosted video-on-demand services for City-only (using) material (incorporated into the city’s existing website) $ 14,000 with (ongoing costs) of $3,000; Medium.”
She also asked in the memo: “Do you want to record public meetings? Purchase video recording equipment, run by staff $11,000; High; Purchase video recording equipment, run by volunteers $5,000: Medium”
“Soft costs would include staff time in the Clerk’s Office. I approximate that we spend a minimum of 5 to 6 hours per week tending to the access channels currently. While this doesn’t seem like much, stating the time in terms of a percentage highlights just how much time is consumed by this form of communication (approximately 17 percent of my assistant’s regular weekly hours. I ask that Council sincerely consider this when examining the possible options.”