At cable hearing, Seattle calls for more public arts support. Now what?

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The Seattle City Council's March 30 hearing on the Comcast cable franchise lasted nearly three hours, as scores of local residents stepped up to weigh in on the city's proposed new 10-year deal with the cable provider. A substantial majority of those who spoke at the hearing were there to advocate for funding for extending arts and cultural programming on local public, educational and government (PEG) channels.

Many comments supported the "Arts Zone" side agreement which would give the city-run Seattle Channel millions in new funding for arts production. Many more spoke in favor of increased support for community TV channel SCAN. While the Mayor's proposed plan provides some welcome resources for SCAN, including an infusion of funds to help modernize equipment, and the deed to the channel's outdated building on Aurora Ave, the proposed franchise actually cuts SCAN's annual budget by nearly 25%. At the same time, the Mayor wants to impose new content guidelines on SCAN, without giving them the resources required to make changes.

Other speakers at the hearing complained about Comcast's lousy customer service and asked for enforceable labor standards for service providers like Comcast. A handful of folks from minority community organizations given grants by Comcast praised the company's supposed civic generosity (in reality, Comcast is incredibly miserly in comparison to the national average for business charities). Still, none of these groups, and few others, had anything positive to say about the actual terms of the new proposed franchise.

But the struggle's not over yet. The City Council's Energy Committee has yet to make a recommendation on the cable deal, and the process is expected to extend at least through the rest of this month. There's still time to write or email the City Council with your concerns. Here are a few messages the Council still needs to hear from local constituents:

�Ģ We need to support community arts, culture and public affairs TV in Seattle by supporting SCAN as well as the Seattle Channel. Increasing the franchise fee from 3.5% to 4.5% will help SCAN modernize equipment, increase professional standards, enhance community training programs, and retain qualified staff.

�Ģ The City Council need to carefully review the specific terms of the ArtsZone side agreement to make sure that the new arts funding Seattle sorely needs doesn't come at the expense of government accountability programming on the Seattle Channel.

�Ģ The City Council needs to strongly consider following Oakland's example by passing legislation requiring Comcast to respect the free speech and collective bargaining rights of its local employees.

�Ģ The City Council should hold an additional public hearing on the franchise���turnout for the March 30 hearing demonstrated that people care a lot about the terms of the cable agreement. Both the Council and the public need at least one more opportunity, outside Council chambers, to hear public feedback on the proposed franchise.

Finally, here are two seemingly smaller issues that arose from in RTM's community conversations about the franchise over the last year:

�Ģ The City's proposed side deals require Comcast to begin carrying detailed program listings for the Seattle Channel on its onscreen menus. This is long overdue, but the City Council should make sure that SCAN and local educational channels' listings receive the same treatment.

�Ģ The City should require Comcast to simulcast local non-commercial and low-power radio stations with limited reception, rather than simply the largest commercial stations. We suggest KBCS, KSER, KRIZ, KEXP and Spanish-language KDNA.

Write a letter; get those comments in! The City Council's Energy and Technology Committee will accept written comments on the cable franchise until April 6. Please get written comments to Committee members Jean Godden, Nick Licata and David Della before that time; however, it will still be important to send comments to other Councilmembers as well before the whole Council votes on the proposed franchise.

Significant upcoming dates:

Thurs. April 6: cutoff for written comments to the Energy Committee ( email addresses here
Tues. April 11: CTTAB discusses franchise for a second time (opportunity for comment)
Weds. April 12: Energy Committee Meeting, 9:30am, City Hall. (opportunity for comment)
Weds. April 26: Energy Committee Meeting, 9:30am, City Hall. (Committee expected to vote on amendments/resolutions)
Mon. May 1: Full Council Meeting, 9:30am, City Hall. (possibly the full Council's first opportunity to discuss, and possibly approve, the franchise - click above to check agenda. opportunity for public comment.)

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