Cable Franchise Renewal: Democracy Now?

Would you like to watch Democracy Now! on TV five days a week? How about your common council, county legislature, school board, and public hearings? Want more access to international news and public affairs programming like Aljazeera English, France 24, Central China TV, and BBC World? Or maybe you're a football fan frustrated you can't watch those Thursday night games on the NFL network?

Many other communities have these and other benefits in their cable franchise agreements. Syracuse could, too.

The Time-Warner cable franchise with the City of Syracuse is up for renewal and now is the time we can demand that the city negotiate a franchise agreement that meets our needs.

The existing ten-year franchise expired in September, but was extended for six months by the state Public Service Commission. In March, another six-month extension is virtually certain. The city and common council are just beginning to address the issue.

The Broadcast Media Review Group of Central New York has been researching this issue and talking to common councilors and city officials about the cable franchise renewal. It recommends the following.

On the process of cable franchise renewal, the city should begin a formal performance review and community needs assessment with public hearings in order to determine what the community wants from a new franchise agreement. In addition, the city should also hire a qualified outside consultant to assist in negotiations with Time-Warner. The city does not have the in-house expertise to negotiate effectively with this transnational corporation in the industry's rapidly changing technological and regulatory environment.

The content of a new franchise agreement should include public control of public access, educational, and government (PEG) programming, and technology, independent of, but well-funded by, franchise fees, including:

a citizen-elected board to administer PEG channels and technology;

three PEG channels included as part of the basic tier in the lower channels (not the present Channel 98 that is isolated from the rest of the basic tier);

a public access video and web-based media creation center with up-to-date technology;

broadcast of government meetings, including city council, school board, county legislature, and public commissions and hearings;

universal community access to high-speed internet in community internet centers in order to bridge the digital divide in Syracuse.

The Broadcast Media Review Group of Central New York is working with SPC and other groups to gain support for these goals. We need help with research and organizing. Please contact us to get involved: Doug Iglesrud, 471-5749, or John Oldfield, 475-6251,

-Howie Hawkins