A Community Communications Center raised it's ugly head again Tuesday at the City Commission Work Session. The City Commission heard a presentation from City Staff on the negotiations with Cox Communications for a new cable franchise contract.
The Community Communications Center has been proposed in the past by City Commissioner Ed Kilmek. The Center will cost $500,000 to start and then cable subscribers would pay a monthly tax for the running of the Center. The idea is for the City, County, School District and Kansas State University to have a TV production facility where local propaganda could be filmed and Cox would provide cable channels to air the government created news.
Staff reported to the Commission that almost ten percent of cable viewers wanted local access channels. The Cox representative said their figures do not come close to the Staff figures.
Here is part of a memo given to the Commission:
The City of Manhattan is party to numerous franchise agreements with utility companies providing services within the legal limits of Manhattan. These franchise agreements are the method by which the City extends rights and obligations to utilities to own, lease, construct, maintain, or operate a system in the rights-of-way for the purpose of providing a particular service (i.e. cable, electricity, telephone).
Subsections 531 through 561 of Section 47 of the United States Code (USC) outlines the rules and procedures a franchise authority must adhere to in establishing and negotiating a franchise with a cable operator. These subsections of the USC codify the Cable Acts of 1984 and 1992 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The City of Manhattan entered into a franchise agreement with Manhattan Cable TV Services, Inc., in 1976. In 1987, the current franchise was entered into with Communications Services, Inc. This franchise has remained intact, even though the ownership of the cable system has changed hands several times from TCI to Multimedia Cablevision to the current owner Cox Communications Kansas, LLC (further referred to as Cox).
On October 28, 1999, the City of Manhattan entered into the informal franchise renewal process with Multimedia Cablevision. Since then, Cox has retained ownership of Multimedia Cablevision and the cable services provided in Manhattan. As one of the first steps in the renewal process, a survey is sent to the cable operators. Cox responded to a survey in September of 2000.
The informal process of renewing the cable franchise includes gathering feedback from the citizens of Manhattan and ranking their priorities and preferences with regard to cable service. As discussed at the May 8, 2001 City Commission Work Session, City Administration conducted surveys of citizens and businesses to gauge thoughts and opinions about the cable service currently provided in Manhattan, as well as services desired in the future from Cox. Citizen surveys were distributed to 1,000 randomly selected residents during November of 2000. Of the 1,000 surveys sent out, 200 were specifically sent to Kansas State University students on a random basis. In January of 2001, surveys were sent to government and community leaders to gauge their opinions on cable services provided and those services currently utilized by their business/institution.
To insure that a cable franchise is completed before the end of April 2002, the following timeline provides a frame of reference for what has already occurred, as well as future actions on this matter.
The current cable franchise ordinance consists of 20 sections and the proposed cable franchise agreement consists of 14 sections . The proposed document incorporates every section of the existing document and expands upon several areas in order to bring it up to current standards and operating procedures. Each document is attached.
Section 6-covers the support for local and cable related needs. Addressed in this section is the educational and governmental access channels provided by Cox. If a Community Access Corporation or similar entity of some sort is established within the City, it has been proposed that Cox and the City negotiate a plan to pay for this service (outlined in detail at the end of this document). Also in Section 6, the City is able to set forth certain technical assistance and equipment needs necessary within the public buildings in Manhattan.
City Administration has met with representatives of Cox on several occasions and is continuing to negotiate a document to present for First Reading. The following are major points of discussion still being negotiated between the City and Cox.
Section 2: Term of Agreement
The term of the franchise is a point of negotiation still being discussed. The City has suggested that the franchise be eligible for re-negotiation after 10 years. If neither party-namely the City or Cox-chooses not to re-open negotiations, the franchise will automatically extend for another 5 years.
Section 6: Education and Government Access Channels
Currently Cox provides four access channels to the community. Three channels are provided for educational access, two to Kansas State University, and one to U.S.D. 383. The City is provided one channel. These channels provide local information to residents, including live programming, as well as announcements. These channels provide an important communication vehicle and should be maintained at the standards currently afforded by Cox.
Future opportunities for expanded programming of these channels have been discussed by City Administration and include the creation of a Community Communications Center, otherwise known as a Community Access Corporation (CAC). This Communications Center would be a source of local television programming that is currently not available in Manhattan. City Administration has discussed this concept with Cox. Funding for the Center is a critical part of the Franchise Agreement and is a point that both sides are still unable to fully agree upon.
The City originally proposed a "pass through" fee to be added to each Cox bill for the funding of the Communications Center. This fee would be reimbursed at the same time that franchise fees are paid by Cox to the City. Cox has concerns with the additional fees being added to the bills of Cox customers due to increasing competition from other non-franchise providers. A "pass through" in the amount of $0.25 a month to a cable subscriber could generate as much as $42,000 a year based on 14,000 subscribers.
In a recent proposal, the City has suggested that subscribers be given the option to round their cable service bills up to the nearest dollar and/or check-off for an additional contribution amount in order to fund the current government access channel. This will allow subscribers to voluntarily contribute to the programming costs of City televised meetings and the future costs of additional programming made available on the City channel. In the event a Community Communications Center (CCC) is formed, the City and Cox will meet and negotiate in good faith to either enact a "pass through" fee to all cable service subscribers in order to fund the operation of the CCC or negotiate for one of the four current government and educational access channels in exchange for a yearly contribution for the life of the agreement with Cox.
The City’s legal staff has also prepared an intuitive approach to the
adoption of the franchise. According to state statute, the cable franchise
ordinance must be read at three (3) City Commission legislative sessions
in its entirety. In order to prevent the reading of the entire 40 pages
of the franchise agreement, an ordinance was created referencing the franchise
as an agreement between the City and Cox. This draft ordinance is also