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January 31, 1971 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1971-01-31

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I4 9-

4m

special
feature

the

sunda~y

daily

by
pat
atkills

iber 41

Night Editor: Robert Kraftowitz

Sunday, January 31, 1971

'able

television

challenges

4'

the

American

TO THE SUBSCRIBING student, it will mean
a $15 installation fee and a $5 monthly
subscription charge. To the city of Ann Arbor,
it co.uld mean at least an annual $100,000 with-
in three years.
Cable television in Ann Arbor is a chance,
as well, to break with the normal city cable
television policy which ignores possibilities for
social benefits.
Ann Arbor has uniquely linked its cable
television revenues with what some consider
its gravest public need-public housing.
Simply, cable television consists of a large
community antenna with receptivity capabili-
ties much beyond the antenna of the individ-
ual homeowner. Co-axial cable is strung on
poles or laid underground from the community
antenna to the homeowners or apartment
dwellers who subscribe to the service.
"Cable television could fall on its face or it
could have as much an impact as the railroads
did in opening up the West," says Ann. Arbor
Councilman Bob Faber (D-2nd Ward). "I don't
know how it's going to work here. The poten-
tial extends out far, much beyond looking at
the wagon trains going west."
What cable television (or CATV, short for
community antenna television) achieves in
Ann Arbor depends greatly on the response of
residents and on the functioning of a newly-
appointed Ann Arbor Cable Television Com-
mission.
Last July, with city council's passage of a
cable television ordinance, the commission was
authorized, its primary task to act as watch-
dog over cable television in Ann Arbor. Just
two weeks ago the commission members were
appointed.
Within six months, if cable construction
goes as expected, the commission will oversee
the opening section of Ann Arbor's cable tele-
vision system.
"THE POSSIBILITIES are staggering for Ann
Arbor with the University, the expertise
available locally, the dedicated people, and
new technologies," says Faber, who headed the
city council's committee on CATV.
"Look, for example, a two-way system of
communication is technically possible right
now, realistically and practically. Ann Arbor
Model Cities has trouble getting everyone to
meetings. It could be possible to have every
member at home in simultaneous contact for
discussions," he explains. "Or you could con-
duct public hearings or hold conference calls."
Cable television appeals to Faber, and other
community leaders and educators, because of
the localism in programming it can bring to
television. National TV networks and metro-
politan newspapers have forced program space
for diverse community group dialogue to a
negligible level at a time when such communi-
cation is important to maintaining or re-
acquiring a sense of community."
"People are concerned with those who have

no voice in the community, and this could give
them that voice," Faber states.
In line with his concern for the social
benefits of CATV, Faber suggests the possi-
bility of local programming by black theater
groups, high school educators, or SGC election
campaigners. "The committee will instruct the
commission to give high priority to low in-
come and minority groups," Faber reports.
"I would like to see training programs set
up for, say young blacks-some type of intern-
ship run at the company's expense. That type
of program is already a certainty for the school
system," Faber says.
Other groups will benefit from the policies
set down by the ordinance. The legislation re-
quires free cable television installation to city
hall, fire stations, all schools, the public li-
brary, one to each junior or community college,
and four to the University.
THE SCOPE OF Ann Arbor's cable television
encompasses more than a channel of live
local programming, however. The Michigan
Communications Group Inc. (MCG)-presently
leasing Ann Arbor's CATV rights-intends to
install co-axial cable for a twenty channel
capacity. Under Federal Commission regula-
tions, the CATV franchise must carry all of
the channels currently available to the com-
munity. In Ann Arbor 12 channels can be
picked up, which leaves eight to be parcelled
out to the city and the franchise company.
According to the CATV ordinance, designed
chiefly by Faber and his committee members
- Councilmen Kazarindff, E d w a r d s and
Kirscht, four channels are for the city's use
and four are left to the company.
"The city's four channels will be used as
determined by the commission," Faber says.
"However, the ordinance already allows one
for use by the public schools with the CATV
company giving them facilities and equip-
ment. Another will probably be allocated to the
University, and a th rd will be for use by city
hall to broadcast council meetings and public
hearings."
The fourth will be for use free of charge
by citizen groups and will be the place for
most local programming. "The committee will
instruct the commission to give high priority
to low income and minority groups," Faber
adds.
"The CATV company plans a diverse usage
for its four channels as well. We'll have a time
and weather channel," says Bob Shaw, an of-
ficial of the MCG. "It's a popular channel in
CATV systems as a rule. Then we'll have a
camera on a UPI tickertape that will run while
the exchange is open. A promoter has ap-
proached us with a program he's developing
to cut into the tickertape every 15 minutes
with reports directly from the exchange.
"Our other channels will have kid's shows,
sports, and some of the world's worst movies,
the ones even Detroit turned down like the
first 1929 talkies. We'll start working live pro-
gramming in as we get equipment and facili-
Mies," Shaw adds.

wasteland
Local programming will not become a real-
ity without hard work and Shaw realizes the
practical difficulties involved. "It's easier to
form an opinion on the subject without jump-
ing into the soup," Shaw says. "Once you're
in, you find it's thicker than you thought.
"People have become spoiled in the last
twenty years by what the networks put out.
Even with a bad show, the production is ex-
cellent. A program put on by amateurs is going
to look like a program put on by amateurs,"
Shaw says.
In more direct language Shaw explains, "A
few years ago a couple of guys in California
started writing that cities should have all the
channels under their control. That's OK with
us, don't get me wrong. We just think we'd be
more liberal. I think we'd want lots of groups
on the air to fill up the programming. And I
think since we've been in the business longer,
we'd have smoother production."
THE CITY MOVED into the CATV picture
four years ago, when several companies
first approached it and expressed interest in
opening a franchise. The companies dropped
by the wayside and the Ann Arbor CATV com-
mittee, after a year's serious study, recom-
mended last June that a 15-year franchise be
offered to MCG.
"CATV systems are in business to send out
applications," says Shaw. "Ann Arbor is not a
classical CATV area, reception's good, there
are no mountains, and a diversity of stations

'V

MCG, under the regulation, must be will-
ing to accept responsibility for all damages
which Ann Arbor might be legally required to
pay as a result of granting the franchise, and
to produce evidence of insurance to cover re-
moval of the system in event of failure.
"One of the important basic facts, or rather
benefits, is the need for some degree of cor-
porate responsibility," Faber asserts. "I don't
believe you're going to get that by trying to
change attitudes, but you can change it by
changing procedures. That's what we've tried
to do by spelling out responsibility."
SUCH A UNIQUE project as cable TV has nat-
urally had its portion of dissent. Public
housing is not a top priority to everyone. Nor
are strict restrictions on businesses considered
fair by some.
Some of the objections to the ordinance
were a result of this funding to public housing.
Some councilmen opposed an amendment of
the ordinance placing restrictions on paid po-
litical announcements.
"Some conservative members were opposed
totally," Faber adds. "They felt that we should
treat CATV as any other business. Our feeling
is that they're using public rights of way and
are a monopoly, and should be treated more as
a public utility."
Another problem involves the cable casting
commission. Although the commission gets
first crack at the revenues the city receives
from CATV, it expects to run into funding
problems.
Full operating capacity for the cable com-
pany is two years away which leaves the com-
mission with a less than adequate funding bal-
ance. "We were just appointed a week or so
ago," one member explains, "and we haven't

gotten off the ground at all: We won't have
too much work to do at first, because of the
problem of funding. It's one of the principle
problems we'll have to face immediately. I
imagine that will be our first consideration."
Operating funds for the commission will
come from the cable casting revenues received
by the city. Initially that amounts to a $2,500
franchise fee and $200 a month until trans-
mission begins. When transmission begins,
MCG will pay the city an annual franchise fee
of $4,800 or an amount equal to five per cent
of the first $500,000 gross revenue, 10 per cent
of, the next $250,000, and 15 per cent of the
gross revenues in excess of $750,000, which-
ever is greater.
Ironically the cable casting company is
having its own share of funding problems.
"Unfortunately the financial world hasn't got-
ten as enthused as I about CATV in Ann Ar-
bor," Shaw laments. "It's partly because of the
nature of the area and the ordinance. There's
been too many fiascos in Ann Arbor, too many
places that went broke.
"Ann Arbor is not a financial area," Shaw
continues. "To get the $4 million we need, we
have to go to financial centers and that means
out of the state. Detroit's not a financial center
either. It becomes very difficult to explain the
program to someone in Los Angeles or New
York, when Ann Arbor is just a dot on the
map."
BEYOND THAT Ann Arbor dot of cable tele-
vision may lie the promised land of the
communications media - or the vast tele-
vision wasteland only multiplied by 10 chan-
nels or 20 or whatever number technology
makes feasible.

r,

ti

4

are available, so the other groups just lost
interest."
Before the committee selected a company,
it was studying the problems in drafting a
cable television ordinance.
With the goal of social benefits in mind,
the committee developed an ordinance estab-
lishing a five-man cable casting commission
with authority to regulate rates possibly on a
sliding scale of charges according to sub-
scriber's income; to license public broadcast-
ing for the citizen channel; to audit the CATV
company and to investigate, through hear-
ings, charges of censorship, poor service
or improper rate assessment. The ordinance
also insures corporate responsibility and es-
tablishes two needed trust funds for public
broadcasting and public housing.
Revenues received from MCG in excess of
the cost for running the commission will be
directed into the two trust funds. Five per
cent of the excess will go into the public
broadcasting fund, to be regulated and man-
aged by the commission. Citizen groups could
apply for m o n e y to purchase broadcasting
equipment.
95 per cent will be directed to the trust
fund for use by the Public Housing Commis-
sion. And Faber acknowledges the unusual
nature of a cable television ordinance which
gives priority to public housing.
"We don't like the idea of freezing in the
funds to such a specific project," Faber ex-

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