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Albany announces that it has (finally) struck a deal for public access TV

Published on 1/28/2010 by Metroland written by by Ali Hibbs, METROLAND

The city of Albany has an nounc ed plans for a public access cable television system (including educational and government channels) more than 30 years after neighboring cities such as Schenectady and Bethlehem implemented similar public services. Monday, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Common Councilman John Rosenzweig (Ward 8) announced a new franchise agreement between the city and Time Warner Cable. Along with all the formal verbiage covering legal and geographical considerations, this new, 10-year contract contains a section titled Public, Educational and Government Access Channels and Service.

Under the terms of this part of the new agreement, Time Warner will provide funding for equipment to be provided at five locations for training, programming and broadcasting purposes. The cost to Time Warner will not be more than $217,000 until 2013, at which point Albany may request up to $217,000 more for repairs and additional equipment. A board of directors that will oversee the allocation of funds has yet to be announced, but is expected to consist of council members as well as representatives from the community, the College of St. Rose, the New School of Radio and Television and Albany Public Library.

The College of St. Rose and the New School of Radio and Television will be receiving funding for additional equipment as well as providing space and already existing equipment for educational use. Representatives from both schools have pledged to provide training, and they are expected to be the main producers of the government and educational programs. This situation, said Rosenzweig, is optimal because it benefits the students and because it should result in a “more refined product.” St. Rose has also dedicated 10 dates during the upcoming year during which the general public will be able to access their new Communications Center and learn to work with state-of-the-art equipment, according to Rosenzweig.

The third location, a studio to be built at the main branch of the Albany Public Library, will be the main access point for the public. The library has agreed to supply the space, but not the personnel, for a new studio to be used primarily for the public access channel. The location was chosen due to its central location and bus-route accessibility. The new studio will include an actual interview set with lighting kit, camera equipment, a prompter, a widescreen television and an editing system.

Albany High School will receive computers and monitors, as well as recording and editing equipment for educational purposes. Students will be able to take classes and work on programming in conjunction with the New School and St. Rose. Camera and sound equipment will also be provided for Albany City Hall to record and broadcast public government meetings.

One drawback to the new PEG system is that those who do not subscribe to Time Warner Cable will most likely not be able to access the public and educational channels. Rosenzweig has said that they hope to be able to convert government programs to a supportable format on the city’s Web site and to make them available there. It is unlikely that they will do so with the educational or public access programming.

The idea to bring public access television to Albany is not a new one. A committee formed more than seven years ago, then fizzled before action was taken, even amid myriad requests from the community. “We’re 20 years behind the times,” said Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), who was a member of the original committee. “We borrowed equipment from Bethlehem for years,” he said, adding that the grassroots effort, Albany Community Television, has been filming the Common Council and school board meetings more recently. (You can find Albany Community Television online at

In 2006, after taking office, Rosenzweig requested that the merits of a public access system be reconsidered and Common Council President Pro Tem Richard Conti (Ward 6) agreed, naming him chairman of the ad hoc committee. According to Rosenzweig, the first step was to reach out to the public for input. He said that, after meeting with community members, neighborhood organizations and educational institutions, “The desire and the need for it had been clearly demonstrated.” The next step, then, was to figure out how to implement it.

It is not unusual for cable companies to buy franchises from the cities in which they do business, the franchise fee essentially paying for the use of the land on which they install poles, cables and any other public necessities required to supply a vast majority of the population with a service. Albany is currently receiving 5 percent of Time Warner’s gross income, according to Rosenzweig. It makes good fiscal sense for Albany then, he said, to make use of that already-existing, mutually beneficial relationship when undertaking such a potentially costly venture.

The proposed contract will go before the Common Council for approval in early February and must be approved by the Public Service Commission before it will be implemented. If all goes according to plan, Rosenzweig said that he hopes to have the system up and running by the time school starts next September.