Comcast, Chicago's largest cable provider, is seeking a 10-year renewal of its cable franchise in Chicago. Nationally, Comcast's wants to take over Time Warner, combining the nation's two largest cable companies. The merger is attracting attention from the justice department, public officials, and a wide range of public interest groups. When advocating for approval of the merger, Comcast executive, David Cohen, stated that Comcast has consistently "over-delivered" on its public interest commitments.
It is precisely those public interest commitments that have caught the attention of Chicago Aldermen as negotiations go into overtime. The main issue is Comcast's reluctance to meet a standard of support for public access television channels operated by CAN TV that RCN, a much smaller company, already meets as part of its 2012 franchise renewal.
Over 40 members of the City Council made it clear in a recent letter to Comcast that they will oppose Comcast's franchise renewal if it doesn't include an acceptable deal for CAN TV. 10th Ward Alderman, John Pope said, "My colleagues and I want no further delays in Comcast meeting its public obligations in Chicago."
Comcast's renewal comes at a time when public protections in the cable and video market have been weakened by major corporations lobbying for regulatory "relief" while claiming increased competition for customers. At the same time, cable revenues in Chicago are robust, with Comcast enjoying an 80 percent increase in revenues from 2002-2012. By 2013, Comcast controlled two-thirds of the Chicago cable market, and had annual cable revenues of over $384 million within the City.
Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films and Committee for Media Access was recently on WBEZ recalling the cable industry's start in Chicago, when a wide diversity of groups came together to advocate for CAN TV's creation, advocacy work that continues to this day. Says Quinn, "It's amazing to me to watch over the years the way the CAN TV has evolved into this multiplatform entity that helps all different kinds of people get their word out, tell their stories, and talk to their constituencies."
For 30 years, CAN TV has worked to protect and extend the public's most fundamental right - the right to speak and be heard. As a result, Chicago residents and groups now create more local programming then can be found on any other station in Chicago. CAN TV's training program helps people adapt to a changing multimedia environment, teaching skills toward independent use of media and building technological literacy in the community.
Chicago's cable ordinance created CAN TV 30 years ago with a requirement that cable companies operating in the City allocate channels and funding to support CAN TV's public mission. "This is something that they owe the community," says Quinn.