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Chicago: A Test of Comcast Merger Promises

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The Chicago Committee on Finance will begin consideration of the 10-year renewal of Comcast's cable franchise in Chicago at its March 4, 2014 meeting in City Hall. CAN TV, the organization I represent, was founded by Chicago cable ordinance 30 years ago as the most significant public benefit to come out of cable franchising. Since that time, thousands of Chicago groups and residents annually take advantage of training, facilities and channel time to create programs at CAN TV on health, job opportunities, arts initiatives, education issues, and more. In fact, more local programs are on CAN TV each week than on Chicago's broadcast stations combined.

CAN TV's future ability to serve the public will be determined by the outcome of the negotiations currently taking place between the City of Chicago and Comcast. It will be a clear indicator of Comcast's commitment to the local community, particularly with the Time Warner merger deal now in the pipeline.

The February 21, 2014 New York Times reports on the significant influence Comcast wields through contributions and lobbying as it gears up for merger approval. Teeing up support from a wide variety of groups is part of that strategy. The Chicago franchise will be a test of Comcast's commitment to the local community here.

Alliance for Community Media, the organization that represents public, educational and government (PEG) access centers nationwide released the following statement regarding Comcast's proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner.

Protect Existing Public Assets in Comcast Merger Deal

(Alliance for Community Media - February 18, 2014) The proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast is a clear threat to media localism and diversity. Public, educational and government (PEG) access centers are anchor organizations providing the public with training, facilities and channel time as part of the cable industry structure. A growing number of communities report that Comcast is cutting funding, taking back channels, and refusing to provide basic technical advancements like high definition (HD) carriage and VOD to the public.

According to the 2011 Analysis of Recent PEG Access Center Closures, Funding Cutbacks, and Related Threats prepared for Alliance for Communications Democracy with support from the Benton Foundation, "PEG Access Centers in at least 100 communities across the United States have been closed since 2005. A disproportionate number (93) exclusively served the public."

Of those 93 Centers that exclusively served the public, 49 of them were in Comcast communities. Despite Comcast's assertion that "we have over-delivered on our public interest commitments," the evidence speaks for itself.

In an online statement about the proposed acquisition of Time Warner, Comcast lauds its "commitment to making available diverse, local news, and children's programming on various platforms in the cable systems we are acquiring from Time Warner Cable." Those claims are put to the test in every local community that has to fight for the basic survival of PEG resources and channels. It is time for our regulators and legislators to take action to prevent Comcast from eroding the most valuable public asset that exists as a result of cable franchising.

For additional information please contact ACM Board of Directors representatives Alan Bushong (alan@cctvsalem.org) or Mark Monk (markfmonk@yahoo.com.)