April 11, 2014

CMA Member Jake Austen Profiled in Southside Weekly

Last week there was a write-up in the South Side Weekly of CMA Member Jake Austen and his CAN TV Show Chic-A-Go-Go which has been airing since 1996. 

The following is an excerpt of the article that discusses the concerns about CAN TV’s future and the Comcast renewal negotiations.

Despite the joy of the show and its volunteer staff, there are fears that “Chic-A-Go-Go” and many of the other CAN TV programs may be in jeopardy.

A city contract with Comcast, the cable company, is currently up for a ten-year renewal.  Comcast has one of three cable franchise agreements with the city.  (The other two are held by RCN and WideOpenWest.)  The sticking point in negotiations between cable providers and the city is often public-access television, which is rarely profitable for cable companies.  So far, Comcast has been hesitant to pledge its full, continued support for CAN TV.  Instead, the company has opted for a three-month extension, which began in March, on its negotiations with the City Council’s Committee on Finance, with an option for an additional three months to be granted at the discretion of the city’s Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection. As a result of the extension, the financial future of CAN TV remains unclear.  Austen suspects that Comcast may be buying time to lobby the city in an attempt to downgrade its funding commitment to public access.  (A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on its negotiations with the city.)

According to Barbara Popovic, if Comcast downgrades their funding agreement the station will also receive significantly less funding from RCN, a smaller provider.  The contract between RCN and the city, which was negotiated in 2012, includes a “most favored nation” clause that guarantees the company will provide no more public-access funding than Comcast does.  “If both Comcast and RCN downgraded their funding agreements,” says Popovic, “seventy-five percent of our operating budget would be affected.”

The suspicion that Comcast may downgrade its support is not without precedent.  In 2009, legislation in California allowed Time Warner to cut its funding to Los Angeles’s fourteen public-access stations.  (Time Warner is in the process of merging with Comcast.)

“We don’t want to become California,” Austen says.  With Gordon Quinn, artistic director of Chicago documentary studio Kartemquin Films, and a few other dedicated activists, Austen has formed the Committee for Media Access.  The group is organizing a call-in campaign to bolster public-access support from aldermen.

Austen insists that for Comcast, the issue is “not a lack of money” (by revenue, Comcast is the largest communications company in the world).  Productions costs are low, and Austen and other CAN TV producers are not paid.  “They just don’t want to have this extra stipulation to provide us with funding,” he says.

Click here to read the full article.  


April 2, 2014

Comcast Forces Skokie Access Center to Close

Comcast will cease operations of the Skokie public access center beginning next week, forcing the station to close, according to this press release from accesscenter.com. Very disappointing news, but unfortunately seems to be just part of the trend when it comes to Comcast and public access television.

From 2005-2011 thirteen public access centers in Illinois have been closed by Comcast:

  • Bloomingdale
  • Orland Park
  • Carol Stream
  • Palatine
  • Glendale Heights
  • Park Forest
  • Highland Park 
  • Roselle
  • Itasca
  • Springfield
  • Medinah
  • Wood Dale
  • Niles

Once the community loses these stations, they’re never coming back. It is clear that Comcast does not want public access centers around – but why? For a company that has rock-bottom customer satisfaction ratings, you would think they would be eager to show off a positive side of their business operations. Public access is just that – a universally positive contribution to the communities that Comcast operates in.

The jury is still out for what will happen to Chicago’s public access center CAN TV – the City is in negotiations with Comcast, and they are still negotiating primarily over CAN TV. We can only hope the City is standing up to Comcast to make sure CAN TV doesn’t go the way of so many other public access centers in Illinois and nationwide.  The hundreds of hours of local, community and minority voices that public access television presents each week makes cable television far more diverse, responsible, and important than satellite television, which is something Comcast should be embracing, not rejecting.