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Denver Residents Invited to Shape the Future of Public Access TV

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Even with the rapid growth in online activity, television remains the #1 form of social communication. In the US, people still spend more time watching TV than they spend on internet, radio, newspapers, or mobile phones combined. Cable TV is still the most popular TV delivery method, and if you live in Denver, you likely only have one choice for cable television. The City of Denver has a franchise agreement with Comcast, enabling them to utilize public rights of way, utility poles, and other public resources to build their communications network. In exchange for this, Comcast makes certain concessions to the city, including channels set aside for public access, educational or government programming, and gives a percentage of their revenues from Denver subscribers to compensate the taxpayers for use of this common space.

Every ten years or so, the City negotiates a new franchise agreement with Comcast, and for the next three days, the residents of Denver will have an opportunity to tell the City what we expect from Comcast in the 2012 franchise renewal process. An online survey is available on the Office of Telecommunications website, but your best opportunity to be heard is to attend one of the six community forums scheduled for March 1-3, 2011. At these forums, every Denver resident can have direct input. Participation in this process will help the city effectively represent the community as it works to ensure quality cable television service for its residents in the Comcast cable franchise renegotiation process.

Across the nation, public access channels are closing. Denver has one of Colorado's few remaining public access stations with Denver Open Media. While DOM receives no operating support from Denver or Comcast, the city does allocate some of Comcast's PEG fees to provide state-of-the-art production equipment, studios, and editing systems so that everyone in Denver has access to the tools they need to communicate via the cable TV network.

The Open Media Foundation has identified three primary goals in the upcoming franchise negotiation. With dwindling government budgets, this is a unique opportunity to help maximize public benefit at zero cost to the taxpayer.

1. The Establishment of a permanent public access facility: In 2005, the City of Denver stopped providing operating support for public access TV, but continues to provide support for capital needs, using a portion of the PEG fee to provide equipment for DOM. The greatest capital need for public access is a facility. The site of Denver's current facility was foreclosed-on in 2008, leaving DOM in an unstable home. With over $1 million invested in the current space, the city has an opportunity to demand an up-front grant of $2-3 million to be directed specifically towards the establishment of a permanent home for public access TV. A similar-sized grant was included in the previous Denver Cable Franchise Agreement, and many other cities have required similar concessions from their cable TV provider. Unlike the franchise grants written into previous franchise agreements, this would ensure long-term sustainability of public access in Denver.

2. Increased capital/PEG fees: Because OMF receives no operating support, the organization has developed a highly-automated and technical workflow which reduces staff workload, but necessitates increased capital funds that support the equipment and systems that enable the community to run the station. Starting at $1 per subscriber, OMF hopes to ensure that this PEG fee increases to keep pace with inflation.

3. Upgrade of PEG channels to high definition: As audiences become accustomed to an HD experience, it is important that PEG channels not be relegated to outdated technologies. Once the majority of channels on the Comcast network in Denver are provided in HD, the PEG channels should be made available in that format as well. Denver Open Media is ready to move to HD, but the new franchise agreement must allow for it.

If you have other goals/requests you'd like to ensure the city includes in the next franchise agreement, you are invited to participate in any of the following community forums and make your voice be heard. All forums will run from 6:30-8pm.

Tuesday, March 1st
Harvey Park Recreation Center - 2120 S. Tennyson Way
East High School - 1600 City Park Esplanade

Wednesday, March 2nd
Highland Recreation Center - 2880 Osceola Street
West High School - 951 Elati Street

Thursday, March 3rd
Cook Park Recreation Center - 7100 Cherry Creek South Drive
Westerly Creek Elementary School - 8800 E. 28th Avenue