Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 13, 2014

Forum: Public-access TV just grows stronger

By now, Charter cable television customers are well aware of the company’s recent switch to an all-digital platform. Love it or hate it, it’s part of an inexorable march of change in today’s technology-driven world.

Charter says the change was easy, delivering better quality for everyone. The company says that the vast majority of its customers were already equipped to receive an all-digital signal, and the relatively few remaining analog customers were able to request a digital converter at no cost for one year. A few channels were shuffled around. No big deal, right?

But for our region’s public- and government-access TV stations, keeping current with technology is more of a sprint than a march. And like anyone on a fixed income, every update can hurt. This latest change by Charter meant yet another channel relocation for UpNorthTV (189), GovernmentTV (191) and the local education outlets, the second such expensive shuffle in just the last five years.

Our region’s public-access TV is no stranger to adversity. In exchange for using public rights-of-way, Charter must pay fees and provide access to cable channels for public use, but it’s up to cities, townships and villages to hold them to it. From Manistee to Cheboygan, more than a dozen local governments once stood together in exercising those rights for the benefit of their citizens. But many took the fees and turned away from public- and government-access years ago. Today, just four local governments carry this torch of transparency and free speech, cablecasting their municipal meetings and providing a public-access TV channel: the City of Traverse City and the Charter Townships of East Bay, Elmwood and Garfield.

Without the leadership and support of these four municipalities, public-access TV would be a thing of the past in our region. Instead, it has re-emerged as a powerful communications tool, opening government meetings to the public, showcasing community events, offering educational shows, and presenting the region’s top performing artists. Working with LIAA’s UpNorth Media Center, citizens, nonprofits and local governments deliver these media miracles every day — not just on cable TV, but as streaming video over Internet-connected devices.

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