Committee Hearing Transcript (EPU) 02/02/94
Historical hearing where CTAC founders Joan Steffons and Stuart Arotsky testified. (ed. webmaster)
February 2, 1994
kfh ENERGY AND PUBLIC UTILITIES 4:30 p.m.
PRESIDING CHAIRMEN: Senator Peters
COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:
REPRESENTATIVES: Scalettar, Poss, Scipio
SENATOR PETERS: Good evening, everybody. My name is Melody Peters, and I’m the Senator from the 20th District, but more importantly this evening, I am the Senator and Chairperson, co-chairperson of the Energy and Public Utilities Committee, and I welcome you to this public hearing.
kfh ENERGY AND PUBLIC UTILITIES February 2, 1994
I would like to say at the outset that it’s come to my attention recently that some people or some person has questioned the validity of this public hearing, so for the record, may I state that this hearing is convened under the authority granted to the Energy Committee under Joint Rules 3 and Joint Rule 6, subsection B and pursuant to Sections 795 of the Mason’s Manual.
This is a legitimate public hearing. Your testimony will be recorded for the record. Having said that, I would submit that when you come to the
table to testify before this committee, you identify yourself by name, and company or corporation, and speak clearly, that the mic will
pick up your remarks. If you have any written testimony, we would like you to hand it in. Once again, I’d like to say welcome and thank you for taking the time to come. Also, I’d like to say that this public hearing is being convened at the request of Representative Ellen Scalettar who is
the vice-chair and the House of Representatives for this Energy and Public Utilities Committee, and
will be co-chairing this proceeding with us this evening.
To her left is Representative Poss and we thank you for coming as well. Also a member of the Energy Committee. To my right is the Clerk of the Committee, Larry Voyer, who does an outstanding job, and in order for him to do his job well, we ask that you try, of course, speak normally, but speak up and try to hold back any remarks in the background so that he can begin taking the notes of the testimony.
He needs to do this in order to compare it with the taped testimony. Having said that, I would also say that it is customary that we limit remarks to three minutes. However, we also tend to be somewhat flexible, so having said that, I’d ask Representative Scalettar if you have any remarks you’d like to make.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you very much. I’d like to welcome everyone here this afternoon, and thank Senator Peters and her co-chair Representative
Fonfara who isn’t here for the courtesy of holding the meeting and holding it here in Woodbridge. I think it’s very important that we bring some of these government events to the local towns, and I think this is a very good example of the willingness of many people in the Legislature to do that, so that you can see how we operate in Hartford, and bring your concerns to us. The subject matter of this public hearing relates to two matters relating to cablevision.
I know there are many things people would like to talk about. I’m sorry I misspoke. I didn’t mean cablevision, but cable television. There are many
things people would like to speak about concerning cable television, but the subject matter here is limited to two issues. One is what to be the role of cablevision community advisory councils and the other is how can use of public access cable television be maximized, and different concerns relating to these two issues have come to our attention in the Energy and Public Utilities Committee and that’s why we’re holding the hearing. I wanted to mention to those of you who may not know some of the background on the cable television, and before I go on, I just want to introduce Representative Scipio, Howard Scipio, and member of the Committee. Primary jurisdiction for cable television regulations rests with the FCC, so it is federally regulated, and there are only certain areas where the state has control over regulations. Two of those areas are advisory councils and public access.
With respect to advisory councils, one advisory council is required for each franchise area, and there has to be a representative from every town in the area. The cable company has to provide at least $2,000 annually in funding for the advisory councils, and the Department of Public Utility
Control which is the franchising authority for cable television in Connecticut must consult with the advisory council in determining whether to
renew of transfer a franchise.
Advisory councils are frequently seen as representatives of the consumers in the district and bringing local concerns to the cable companies. The second issue relates to public ACCESS, is also something that comes under state control. State law requires cable companies to provide at least
one public access channel and to support public access programming. The state recognizes the goal of encouraging widespread public access and public access programming, so we look forward to hearing your testimony today, and pursuing any areas that come to our attention as a result of this hearing or other information that might require legislation at the state level.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you, Representative Scalettar. She raises a good point, that there are currently is no legislation before the Committee with respect to these issues, or no proposals before the Committee with respect to these issues. This is an informational hearing to gather information that will educate us on the issues, and decide from that point what we’re going to do with it, so thank you for reminding us of that.
We’re also joined by Kevin McCarthy who is our legislative researcher for Energy and Public Utilities, and it’s customary that Kevin come along. I thank you, Kevin. We’ll begin with the testimony part of this hearing, and the first name on the list is John Repicky. I’m sorry if I murdered your name, John. Please come forward and.
JOHN REPICKY: I thank the Committee for allowing us the opportunity to testify. If it pleases, I’ll just read from the prepared statement. Regarding these two questions raised, at its meeting of January 31st, the Area 9 Cable Council had the opportunity to discuss the above questions. Overwhelmingly the group felt that the council and the franchise holder should keep in mind that the council exists to advise the management. Too often councils have take an adversarial and regulatory stance and unfortunately company management often acts without communication with or guidance from the local advisory council. Last spring Cablevision attempted to reduce duplication of programming by eliminating a number of Connecticut broadcast channels. The decision was made without consulting the ANCC and resulted in significant upheaval including a call for revocation of Cablevision’s franchise by the Attorney General and the Office of Consumer Council.
The resulting political firestorm made it impossible to achieve a worthy goal, that is the reduction of duplicative programming. The Area 9 Cable Council feels that a closer relationship to the franchisee including increased dialogue and access to company management is vital to the proper functioning of a Council. This is especially true in cases such as Cablevision’s, where management resides outside of the state.
Secondly, the Area 9 Cable Council feels that the Council needs greater visibility among the subscriber base. While the Council should not be another customer service department, it should have opportunities to seek guidance from subscribers regarding the services and business practices of the franchisees. Cable companies should certainly be required to do more to promote the Council through advertising or increased funding of the council.
Finally, the introduction of fiber and new technologies will soon be affecting all CATV systems and telephone companies in the state. The advisory councils can play a major role in insuring that the benefits of the new technologies accrue to the advantage of the subscribers. The regulation of these new capabilities will be a major challenge for the Legislature and the DPUC.
It’s not in the prepared statement, but I’d like to add that I hope that the Legislature will consider the arrangements of right now cable franchisee has with in advisory council. When the telephone companies get into the same business of reinclusion of television of television distribution, we would hope that there would be some sort of advisory council designated for those companies as well.
On the second question, regarding utilization of access channels, the Area 9 Cable Council hopes that the Legislature will focus on all types of access – public, governmental and educational. Despite the large amount of access programming, we feel that the use of access channels is still in its infancy.
Much of the access programming is not locally produced and we feel that some formula should be developed to give priority to local programs. Also, we feel that it is necessary for the CATV franchise to do more to promote access programming. As Tom said it, one suggestion is to add a voluntary $1 check-off to the cable bill, similar to the system used by UI for the needy electric customers. Funds could be used to support public and/or educational access programming. Subscribers should be made aware of the opportunities to produce programs, with training and support readily available. Information on access should appear regularly on local channels and in the local cable guide.
Furthermore, non-traditional uses of the access channels, such as bi-directional programming, digital video conferencing, information retrieval and data transmission, by educational and governmental users should be thoroughly explored as new technologies are introduced in the cable systems. In short, we hope that the Legislature will insure that access use will continue to grow in step with the emerging technologies.
Finally, we hope that the Legislature will address the dark side of public access. In the name of First Amendment freedoms, a few users have been allowed to air programs that are lewd, racially divisive and in some cases actually advocating violence against certain groups. These programs
would not be allowed on the public airways by the FCC, but for some reason, they are permitted on public access.
In our opinion every right carries a certain responsibility, and that since society is poorly served by such irresponsible programming, the Legislature and courts should take action to protect society from such potentially destructive influences. Thank you very much.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you, Mr. Repicky. Please stay. I actually have a comment and a question, and my colleagues may want to do the same. First of all to inform you that this Committee has looked at public access, and put forward some legislation last year that didn’t make it out because there was an amendment attached to it that we didn’t appreciate, and at the last minute it didn’t have an opportunity to re-submit the bill, but the bill is coming out of Committee very early this year in session that deals with public access and making it more accessible to the community. We have every hope to expect that that’s going to go through this year, and that may address some of the issues that you have, or at least begin to.
The question that I have for you with respect to advisory boards, you raise an interesting concept which quite frankly brought a smile to my face because I had engaged in a conversation with some folks that were representative of the cable industry in another world, and they had suggested once competition becomes fully open and the field becomes more level, the equity would be with respect to advisory councils that the advisory councils be taken away from cable, rather than the reverse you’re suggesting, we’ll get the phone companies, etc., and make the rules apply to them and I find that very interesting and I thank you for that concept.
With respect to franchises and advisory councils, would you have any comments on how the utilization of an advisory board should be tied to franchising when the DPUC renews that franchise?
JOHN REPICKY: Well, certainly in our case and Cablevision is (inaudible – mic off) franchise renewal and certainly we will be watching to see and hope to testify before the DPUC regarding the past Cablevision practices and the services that we would like to see as the franchise is renewed to clarify some of the points that are now unclear as to what Cablevision’s responsibilities in some areas, especially in terms of access programming. One thing that complicates the entire issue, again I can’t stress the point enough is the emerging technology, as all cable companies over bill with fiber and a whole variety of services become possible that we’re not even aware of. The old franchise agreements that were established when the companies first came into business certainly will no longer be applicable because there will be so many more capabilities available.
I personally am an educator and I certainly want to see the schools have access to the new capabilities. It would be vital to our purpose within the community, and so that I hope the DPUC will consult the cable council before crafting franchise renewal, and I hope that there will be communication between the council and Cablevision before they even submit their proposal to the DPUC for the new franchise.
SEN. PETERS: I would also add that the DPUC has requested (inaudible – off mic) directional as well as educational, and we’ve just received that
report. I have not had an opportunity to look at it, but there are proposals out there with that respect. Thank you for your comments. Any questions?
REP. SCALETTAR: I wanted to ask. You suggested that councils need greater visibility, and that companies should be required to do more to promote the councils. Did you have anything specific in mind, that you’ve discussed?
JOHN REPICKY: I think that some cable companies do more than others in terms of keeping subscribers informed that such a cable council does exist. I bet a number of subscribers don’t even realize that there is a legislative council, and there are some regulations in place for noting the address of the cable council on the bill and also publishing quarterly newspaper to the cable council members. I don’t think that will happen.
Who better than a cable television company has the ability to support their council. There are local programs. Most of them have their own local
newscast. There are ways that a company can promote the council and we would just like to see that happen more often. I think in some cases it’s happening, but.
REP. SCALETTAR: I have one other question I wanted to ask you on utilization of public access channels. Is it your feeling that the primary problem with not getting enough people out there using it is that there isn’t enough funding for it, or is just getting the word out to people that it’s there?
JOHN REPICKY: I think it’s both. Most people don’t realize what it takes to put a television show together, and the same a good support staff at the local cable company. I think sometimes it’s very subtle. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of people wanting to produce a tape and all of the sudden they run into roadblocks. They can’t get equipment or they can’t get somebody to help them or they can do it, but only on a certain schedule, and we’re all very busy, and people tend to give up. Fortunately, for myself since I work for the school system, my students and my staff have easy access to equipment. I think if I had to go through some of the roadblocks that (inaudible) have put up with trying to get a limited amount of equipment from cable companies, you might just say the heck with it and not try to even bother. It does take many, many hours to produce even half hour segments, and sometimes people give up, and then even after it’s produced sometimes it gets one play. There isn’t that much prime time available, and people don’t get to see the program and they think it’s not worth it.
There are ways that companies can streamline the process, use a computer or people can get their programs on.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Any other questions? Thank you very much. Before we continue a slight oversight on my part, and I apologize. I’d like to introduce for
the benefit of the audience, we have two commissioners from the DPUC. Commissioner Hunt and Commissioner Keeney and thank you for attending. Mary Boylan. Don’t be nervous.
MARY BOYLAN: I’m sitting in for Wyland Dale Clift, executive director of Nutmeg TV. I am the assistant executive director, so you’ll get a little bit different aspect of, more on the PEG access rather than advisory council.
In my packet, you have a current newsletter from our station. You have our comments, and you have our informational piece brochure on what Nutmeg TV, how to get on tv, how to get educational classes, etc. etc. so you can peruse that at your leisure. I’m not going to read from comments, but I want to just give you a highlight of what we feel or how we feel about the questions, and the first question was on the role of the advisory council, and we feel that it should be flexible and the role should be broad and flexible. It should directly dictate by what’s perceived from the community and by that we mean cable rates, cable programming, cable company’s performance, educational uses, cable access and participation in DPUC guidelines, and that’s just a summary. We have a description of each of those in the packet.
As far as public access, they have an oversight on our budget at Nutmeg which gives them some, they don’t manage. They don’t micro-manage our organization because we are not for profit, but we do have an oversight capacity. As far as question two is concerned on how public access programming is going to maximize, we have a lot of thoughts and feelings on that. First of all, the way to maximize we feel is to regionalize the public access centers in each of the franchise areas. At Nutmeg TV we’re a regional center for eight area towns. From the literature, we come from Avon, Berlin, Burlington, Bristol, Canton, Farmington, New Britain, Plainville, so there’s eight of us. With that we have the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. We have the best of worlds because we get adequate funding. We have the worst of worlds because of the big demand on our studio.
In that task, we have decided to build an infrastructure to our studio, and by that I mean we have built a staff that can help people that does not limit access. We have not turned anyone away from our studio who wanted to broadcast, to learn about television except for commercialism and for technical quality. We attest to a high criteria. If you go from public access station to public access station, you will find different requirements and different facilities and different management styles.
Now we’ve tried to equalize access to our station by having written policies, by having certain guidelines, and I didn’t bring one for everyone, but we have a packet for each producer, called “So You Want to Produce a Television Show”, and in it has all our policies on commercialism, political events, the policies of how to use the studio from copyright to no smoking in the control room, so everybody knows what the playing field is.
We don’t leave anyone out. We give access to everyone except for commercialism and other things that are explained in the rules. As I said, we feel that regionalization is the best, to have in each of the franchise have one public access station. That way you can have the best of the maximization of funding. You’ll be able to hire technical staff.
Right now we have two full time technical staff people on. Our hours run from 2 to 10 every day of the week, and then we have hours on Saturday and Sunday for post-production editing. We cablecast new programming. We don’t repeat any programming during the week from 4 o’clock until 10 o’clock. We have a Polish news that’s brought in every day from 10 to 10:30 for our Polish community, and we broadcast Saturdays and Sundays from 4 to 10. We also, one of things that we do have is a certain criteria for programming. Local programming is given precedence. If we have someone that brings in a tape from out of our area, we will broadcast it if there’s no other call from local production. If someone brings in a tape or has a tape that’s locally produced in our area, in our studio, in our production van, that gets first preference.
SEN. PETERS: Could I ask you a question, please? Before you go on from there?
MARY BOYLAN: Sure. I’m almost finished.
SEN. PETERS: In the local programming, your proposal of regionalizing public access, would that be all considered local?
MARY BOYLAN: Yes.
SEN. PETERS: Regionalize the eight franchises into one public access.
MARY BOYLAN: Yes.
SEN. PETERS: How much of an area would that cover?
MARY BOYLAN: I don’t know the geographic area, but.
SEN. PETERS: Can you just sort of run off the towns for me?
MARY BOYLAN: Oh, I did. Avon, Berlin, Burlington, Bristol, Farmington, Canton, Plainville and New Britain.
REP. SCALETTAR: And do those towns have different franchises?
MARY BOYLAN: No, we’re in one cable access, yes.
SEN. PETERS: How did you accomplish this? Was it set up that way or…
MARY BOYLAN: No, we started out that way. Dale, Mr. Clift would have to tell you exactly, because he started the franchise. He would have to tell you exactly how it worked. In fact, Degi Jennings who will be speaking in a minute who is the chair of the advisory council, she might give you a little more light on what exactly happened.
REP. POSS: It sounds like a good idea for each town to…
MARY BOYLAN: As I said, we also have the headaches of eight towns, but we try to be fair. We try to give everyone equal access. We run seminars every five weeks for people to learn tv. We usually have 20 to 30 people in them. They’re free. Our role is to educate people on the use. A lot of people, from our experiences, have gotten jobs in commercial tv, so we feel pretty good about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
REP. POSS: Do you welcome hearing facilities of expertise with other…
MARY BOYLAN: Of course. Yes. Just to summarize. I think I covered everything I wanted to talk about. We really feel that because we have the policies in place that we can be flexible in providing fair and equal access. As I said we haven’t turned anybody away, but for those people who want to exploit public access, they have to follow the rules and regulations too, and sometimes they feel that it’s encumbering and they won’t do it. They have to follow the rules and regulations, so it makes it easier for some and harder for others, but the access is there.
In conclusion, I just want to say that Nutmeg TV is committed to assisting the Committee and improving the safe public access television environment and the role of cable television advisory councils. We gladly would work with the Committee’s staff to draft legislation. We request, however, that any proposed legislation articulate goals and task the DPUC with implementing them. We recommend that legislation not attempt to mandate specific management techniques that could prohibit management decisions that would better achieve the intended goals.
Once the Committee’s goals are articulated in legislation, the Committee’s ideas for more specific implementation could be passed along to the DPUC in the proposal’s legislative history. Flexibility in achieving the goals would be maintained to deal with the variety of issues that are unique to each public access center.
REP. SCALETTAR: Ms. Boylan, if you could just explain what Nutmeg is because I think it’s a little bit different from some of the other cable systems.
MARY BOYLAN: We’re a not for profit management of public access station. We are Cablevision.
REP. SCALETTAR: So you’re a private non profit corporation, is that right? So it’s a little bit different. And I actually didn’t realize, but I presume from what you said that in some cable areas, there’s more than one cable access station?
MARY BOYLAN: Yes.
REP. SCALETTAR: Oh, I see and there can be different companies or groups that operate each of those stations?
MARY BOYLAN: Well, they are run by different managers, yes.
REP. SCALETTAR: I also want to ask you about your funding. Does all of the funding come from the cable company?
MARY BOYLAN: A major portion of it we raise ourselves, 10% each year (inaudible – off mic).
REP. SCALETTAR: And how do you raise the other?
MARY BOYLAN: Dollar checkoffs on cable bills that people get. We spend it underwriting, some of the corporations. We receive grants, dubbing, rental of the studios. We have a production truck that we rent on occasion outside of public access.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: I’d just like you to know that when we did the community/public access bill last year, Nutmeg played a very large role in the evolution of that bill. I want to thank you. Thank you. I’m not going to pronounce this but we’ll say Degi Jennings? Degi Jennings. Welcome.
DEGI JENNINGS: I’m Degi Jennings. I’m Chair of the Plainville Area Cable Television Advisory Council, PACTAC with budgetary powers over Nutmeg. We work very closely together. You have our copies and we won’t take more than three minutes. It will probably be a relief to anybody. The advisory council should remain broad and flexible. I have been on the advisory council since it was reactivated and I think it was ten years ago, so I’ve been through a lot of these, two franchise appeals and I agree with the previous speaker with everyone that was said, but we have some concerns.
One of the biggest concerns is there’s more than one franchise within the area right now. There’s another company that is appearing before the DPUC requesting to have another franchise. Will there be more than one advisory council? Will there be more than one access channel? Who’s going to fund
the access channel? Are we going to let one company up against the other? These are my biggest fears and the council’s biggest fears. What is going to happen when all of the other companies come in?
Is the Legislature going to say there is to be more than one council? Right now the statute reads that one council needs representation. I don’t know what to say. We’re leaving it up to you.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you. Scott Hanley.
: Scott stepped out. He did submit written testimony.
SEN. PETERS: Would you like to read it into the record?
: I don’t know if he’s coming back or not.
SEN. PETERS: We’ll come back.
: I’m not sure. He left quite a while ago, but I’d be happy to read it.
SEN. PETERS: Scott says it doesn’t need to be read into the record. (inaudible – off mic) Roberta Fusari.
ROBERTA FUSARI: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Roberta Fusari, and I’m the director of governmental agency, the New England Cable Television Association. My comments will be brief because we have members of our organization that will follow me with extensive testimony.
On behalf of my position, I have witnessed the relationship between our clients and their advisory councils, and believe that both organizations have worked and continue to work to represent the best in diversive community. Advisory councils have played an important role in the evolution of our industry and helped us become more proficient and successful in gathering information from community members in order to better provide the wide range of programming and services.
Based on this what we need is to establish a relationship with our subscribers that speaks of dedication and hard work necessary to grown and compete in a changing environment. Because of this dedication and hard work, our industry has been able to commit vast resources to be used by the community at large, and again cable operators will speak more extensively to the resources to be provided individually to their communities.
With respect to the question about the public access programming, it is my understanding that there will be a revisit to legislation from last year, and we look forward to working to repeat that legislation that serves the community.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you. Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Have you found though in your role as an industry spokesperson that there are wide variations in the relationships between certain advisory councils and certain companies and the relationships between companies and subscribers?
ROBERTA FUSARI: I do believe that the relationships are different in the consensus.
REP. SCALETTAR: Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about how to improve them where there are problems and keep them on somewhat of an even keel?
ROBERTA FUSARI: I believe it’s my opinion that the relationships like most relationships have peaks and valleys, and sometimes you will have a situation where a company might be addressing a change, addressing a need of the community has requested, may be made by determining what the community has been moving for changes, how they respond to surveys or how the company has participated on their own, and that might cause a problem for others in the community, so I think that the relationship is open to maybe a change and how you go about that I’m not really sure, but I think that it would be companies working in the best interest of the community works. It meets the needs, and I think that most of the work that we do we do in response.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you, Roberta. Tad Diesel. There are some seats up front if you folks are looking for seats. Good evening.
TAD DIESEL: Good evening. Senator Peters, members of the Committee, my name is Tad Diesel. I’m the Director of Community and Government Affairs for TCI Cablevision of Central Connecticut. Thank you for the opportunity to address your committee. TCI Cablevision of Central Connecticut provides cable television services to approximately 170,000 customers in the Hartford, Plainville and Vernon franchise areas, encompassing 21 towns, and I am the liaison between TCI Cablevision and its advisory council.
I appreciate the representation of either chairman and chairwoman of two of our advisory councils. Degi Jennings has addressed the Committee already, and then Ed Gittleman of Hartford will shortly. I have submitted two sets of testimony. One is straightforward. It pertains to public access, and so I submit that for the record. On the advisory councils, TCI Cablevision of Central Connecticut manages the three franchises served by the Vernon, Hartford and Plainville Area Cable Television Advisory Councils and our relationship with each of those councils is good.
TCI Cablevision will, it appears, be among the first metropolitan cable systems in American to face multi-layers of competition from alternative providers of cable like television services. Southern New England Telephone is currently conducting a test on providing video services on its facilities in our franchise area in West Hartford and intends to expand that test. FiberVision Corporation has received preliminary approval from the Department of Public Utility Control to provide cable service in the Hartford Franchise, and has applied for permission to provide service in the Plainville Franchise as well, as well as other franchises in Connecticut.
Connecticut Choice Television will soon be providing so-called wireless cable to customers in our area. High power satellites have been launched in order to begin providing direct satellite broadcast programming this year. The competitive environment, which was a dream years ago, a reality today, in the competitive environment, it is our feeling that the only advisory council worth listening to is the advisory council of the customer. Companies which listen well in the future and respond well will win in the competitive environment. Companies that don’t, won’t.
In the competitive environment the concept of a government appointed advisory council becomes an anachronism. Therefore, it seems in the competitive environment, not only should the authority of an advisory council not be increased, but it should be decreased or eliminated. Good companies will replace that government appointed authority with their own versions of advisors – focus groups, surveys, polls, and new methods of interaction with customers to learn how to serve them better, knowing all along that if the customer is not served better, he or she will go elsewhere.
If there are any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.
SEN. PETERS: Actually I have a question. More a curiosity. Historically advisory boards, any advisory board that I’ve ever served on or have been associated with with respect to any agencies that I may work for, work with have always been rather non-adversarial, friendly kind of folk sitting around, doing the best they can do and representing a segment of the population with their opinions.
They have no real essential clout or juice, as my staff would say, with respect to policy making or management. I guess what I would like to try to understand is what is the difference between my concept of an advisory council, the purview of an advisory council of a cable franchise, and if there isn’t that much difference, then what’s up, and what are we so afraid of? Why are they a threat to a cable franchise?
TAD DIESEL: I don’t think they’re a threat. My personal view, I’m not sure about my company, is that the concept of an advisory council is excellent. The problem with the current make up or way our advisory councils are made up now is that certain representatives are not good advisors, and if they’re not good advisors, there’s no way to replace them with better advisors.
Now our good business sense says that we need excellent help. We need excellent advice, and frankly there are members of each of our advisory councils who don’t provide excellent advice. They provide personal advice and the advice that may be good for them, but don’t represent a board constituency, so we would love to continue with those people who go out and ask their neighbors and friends what and how could the cable system provide better service, what could we do better, what programming could improve our mix, what pricing could improve our mix. How can we do a better job?
But in the competitive environment those others who have a personal agenda and don’t contribute to the overall customer service of the system, frankly aren’t a help and won’t be a help in a competitive environment when they’ll really be needed.
SEN. PETERS: I’m really trying to understand this. Would you say then, is it correct for me to assume that advisory councils and their structure are relatively autonomous to the franchise? And there are rules that govern that advisory council and you in effect have no jurisdiction over?
TAD DIESEL: That’s correct. The makeup is one of the points that the chief operating officer, the chief elected official of each community appoints the members of the community side of the advisory council, the chairman, the person of the board of education or superintendent of schools, I’m not sure which, appoints educational representatives and there’s a representative from the largest community’s library in the franchise as well, so no, the cable company does not, is not involved in the make up of. The advisory council itself is not involved in its own make up.
SEN. PETERS: So if your hands weren’t as tied or if there was some input into, I’m thinking out loud – that’s how these things go. With respect to the advisory council then there would be more of an acceptance in your opinion than to just completely eradicate them.
TAD DIESEL: Well, again my opinion is that the good company in the future is going to have some kind of advisory council or lots of them. It’s going to listen their customers actively because they’re going to get beat if they don’t do that.
SEN. PETERS: That’s if you’re looking at competition through rose colored glasses. They have to be on the other side of the fence. Any questions? Yes, Kevin.
KEVIN MCCARTHY: Is there any correct statute or is it just practice which at all inhibits you from doing focus groups or surveys or doing it by the council?
TAD DIESEL: No. There’s nothing.
SEN. PETERS: Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Taking away the question of competition for a minute, do you have suggestions of a better way to appoint an advisory council?
TAD DIESEL: No I think that community by community and in association with cable systems that want to find advisors who can help them provide better service, that there should be some input from the cable company itself when it comes to the type of people who can help them provide the best services. The advisory council should be authorized to set guidelines, by-laws if for nothing else, to find a way to force resignations – some people never come, and yet they’re there, and sometimes they’re there and never come and get reappointed.
REP. SCIPIO: What would you suggest? I think that’s.
TAD DIESEL: There ought to be a way to eliminate that, to eliminate those conditions or to even replace them.
REP. SCALETTAR: I also wanted to ask you in light of the coming competition, which you think will eliminate the need for advisory councils and there may be some disagreement about that. Do you think that has any impact on regulation that requires public access programming?
TAD DIESEL: No.
REP. SCALETTAR: Even if there are several cable franchises in an area, do you believe that the Legislature should still require public access time and programming or do you think that competition will take care of that by itself also?
TAD DIESEL: I don’t know that answer to that question.
SEN. PETERS: I wish we did. Representative Poss, do you have a question?
REP. POSS: You have the advisory councils from each town or are they combined as they were in earlier testimony? Do you have to deal with three
different advisory councils or is it just one?
TAD DIESEL: No, there are three.
REP. POSS: There are three, so that adds to the problem.
TAD DIESEL: Administratively it’s an extra couple of nights out.
REP. POSS: I would think that from our end we could do something about beefing up the sense of responsibility and commitment on the part of the
advisory council, but I can see real reasons why you’d want to separate the advisory councils and their appointment from the cable company, because I think there would be a perception that you want public input, and you want some measure of control of that group outside the cable people.
I would think that some of your suggestions could work with efficient advisory councils. I see your objection being more to the fact that they don’t work rather than that you’re against them per se. Is that correct?
TAD DIESEL: Yes, conceptually the idea of an advisory council is very good even in a competitive environment. I just want to make sure that it’s an advisory council that provides good advice.
SEN. PETERS: Tad, you had another.
TAD DIESEL: I just submitted the other testimony for the record.
SEN. PETERS: Okay. Any other questions? Thank you very much. There are some chairs down here that we can move up if you want to come up and make yourself comfortable, please feel free to do that. John Wolfe.
: May I ask a question?
SEN. PETERS: Yes.
: I’d like to, sign a piece of paper.
SEN. PETERS: Yes, there are sheets over there, and the clerk will pick it up. Thank you. If anyone else is here to testify and has not signed up yet, there are sheets on the side. Hi, John.
JOHN WOLFE: How are you?
SEN. PETERS: Good, thanks, and you?
JOHN WOLFE: Fine, thank you. Good afternoon, and thanks for the opportunity to testify at this hearing. By way of introduction, Times Mirror Cable Television owns and operates Dimension Cable Services, which provides cable service to about 38,000 customers in Meriden, Cheshire and Southington.
Although we are a comparatively one of the smaller operators in the states in terms of franchise size, we’re currently in the middle of a comprehensive fiber-optics rebuild of the system and we’ve recently put in state of the art community programming facility.
What I’d like to do is touch very briefly on public access and Times Mirror’s position and then focus my remarks more on the role of the advisory councils. Times Mirror’s philosophy toward public access, I think, differs from some operators in the state in that we would prefer to manage it ourselves in our franchise, completed just a couple years ago, we contained provisions that we could manage it and we would build the facility. Based on that franchise we recently built and equipped a $375,000 access studio in Cheshire and staff this studio full time with a community
programming manager and a production assistant. This studio is quite busy, and to give you a feel for some of what we’ve been up to, I’ve attached our annual assessment to be part of the formal testimony.
I would only ask that as you consider the issue of public access, that you recognize the substantial investment that companies like Times Mirror Cable have made in the facilities, but more importantly in the equipment and that you allow us to continue to develop policies and procedures that make sure that people who come in and use the equipment first are trained on it. We don’t want to be in a situation where people can come in with no training whatsoever and take expensive equipment and possibly damage it.
Turning to the issue of cable advisory councils, allow me to state at the outset our belief that advisory councils have placed an important role in the development of cable television in the state, particularly during the franchising process. However, given the growing convergence of cable television and telephone technologies as well as what I would view as the certainty of increased competition, I think it’s appropriate that we take another look at the role of advisory councils.
Of all the public service companies in the state, only cable television companies have advisory councils, statutorily. I’m not aware. In a competitive marketplace, this could turn out to be a disadvantage, particularly if advisory councils can act in ways that would inadvertently slow our response to competitive pressures. Moreover, the purpose of the advisory councils, to serve as a liaison between the cable company and the community and to advise the company of community related needs and interests is obviated in a competitive marketplace.
In many ways I’ll be echoing some of what Tad Diesel has said. A company that fails to listen to its customers in a competitive market, isn’t going to succeed. What I would propose, and I guess, Senator Peters, you’ve already hear this proposal elsewhere, is that advisory councils be given a sunset date, timed to coincide with the advent of effective competition in the state. If the DPUC determines that a cable company is, in fact,
subject to effective competition as defined by the FCC, if in other words competitive forces are sufficient to constrain our pricing and programming practices, then the local cable advisory council should be dissolved as of the date of the determination.
But I also believe that this Committee should act to ensure greater accountability among advisory council members, and to ensure that the membership on these councils accurately reflects the needs and interests of the community. We would strongly support measures which would limit the terms of advisory councils to not more than two consecutive terms. This would ensure greater participation in the councils from other members of the community, and would provide the councils with fresh people and fresh ideas.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but such a measure would also prevent advisory councils from becoming dominated by one or two individuals who
often for some personal issues or vendettas at the expense of the needs and interests of the community at large. By way of example, we’ve recently gone through implementing new regulations. We built a new facility. We’re in the process of upgrading out entire cable system. We’ve got the whole host of of communication talent who could greatly use the assistance of our advisory council. Yet over the past two years, our advisory council, the single most important issue has been availability of a couple of sports programming channels, not because the council asked for it, but because of a couple of members want these two services.
In fact, these members have taken it upon themselves to call our programming vendors and representing themselves as members of the council inquire as to the status of negotiations. As you guess, the company has no choice but to put them on. Needless to say, this has greatly complicated our efforts to reach agreements with these suppliers.
We believe that members of the advisory councils should be held to the same standards of conduct which apply to other appointed officials. The same conflict of interest rules should apply, and the councils should be obligated to report on their activities regularly to the people who appoint
them. In summary, it may well be that advisory councils will continue to play an important role as will evolve into a competitive marketplace, but once we’re there, I think we need to take another look at whether they’re really needed. Moreover, we would strongly urge this Committee to take appropriate steps to ensure that advisory councils more accurately reflect the communities that they serve, and that they act with a greater degree of accountability. I’d be happy to answer any questions.
SEN. PETERS: John, I was a little surprised to hear that advisory councils are not held to the same standards that any other appointed commission or council in municipal government is. Do you have.
JOHN WOLFE: We’ve looked in in particular to the issue of the sports programming and the fact that there have been contacts made with certain programming vendors. Our attorneys are supposed to be trying to see if there’s any recourse and they believe there’s not. I don’t believe an appointed public official at the government level, for example, should be able to pick up a phone and insert themselves into the middle of private negotiations.
SEN. PETERS: We do it all the time. Everywhere. It’s not just in cable advisory boards. Any questions or comments? Thank you, John.
JOHN WOLFE: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Donna Garafano. Good evening, Donna.
DONNA GARAFANO: Good evening, Senator Peters. My name is Donna Garafano, and I am the Director of Government and Public Affairs for Cablevision of Connecticut and Cablevision of Southern Connecticut, together serve approximately 186,000 subscribers in sixteen communities in southwestern Connecticut including this one.
We have been providing cable service to the residents of Connecticut since August of 1982. As the liaison between Cablevision and its two advisory councils for the last several years, I believe I can give some historical perspective to the role the councils serve as representatives of the public to the cable systems.
When cable franchises were first rewarded, many local affiliates of out of state companies entered communities with which they were not intimately familiar and prepared to mount major construction projects. The advisory councils were extremely important during the early years, providing critical information and feedback as we built and grew. In the areas of local programming, marketing, customer relations and community service, their contributions were especially valuable, and I think it’s unfortunate that the attention is being drawn now to conflicts between advisory councils and cable companies, because I can honestly say that we have had until very recently an extremely positive relationship with both of our cable companies.
In fact, I can think in the last five years of only two major disputes, and one of them involved sports programming, a subject that seems to be near and dear to everyone’s heart, and the other involved programming in more general terms. As the individual cable systems matured, we developed, appropriate I think, our own direct relationships with our subscribers.
Our desire to communicate directly with our subscribers has sometimes resulted in a natural tension between the company and the council. It has been our experience recently that cable councils wish to vet certain decisions before they reach the level of the general public, and this should not be the case if they do indeed represent the general public. Advisory councils should be a mirror, not a filter.
Advisory councils have fulfilled their initial roles as facilitators of public opinion and needs during the early years of construction and operation. We will soon be operating in a truly competitive environment. With the widespread availability of DBS, pending applications to provide traditional cable services from a newly-formed company, and SNET’s proposal to provide video services in two formats, subscribers will soon be choosing from among several providers. There has been concern in the past about the ability of cable companies to meet subscribers’ needs, and advisory councils have operated to ensure that those needs are met properly.
Very shortly, however, cable subscribers will be the ultimate arbiters of the adequacy of their cable company, and in this scenario, government appointed bodies will no longer be the insurance necessary to guarantee responsive cost effective service. Thank you. I’d be happy to take any questions.
SEN. PETERS: Any questions? Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Good evening. In your testimony, you used the word “vet”. It has been our experience that cable councils wish to “vet” certain decisions. I’m not sure what “vet” means.
DONNA GARAFANO: Approve, as in vetting an application, as in vetting a job application. To go to something first, to determine whether, to pass on something.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
DONNA GARAFANO: Maybe I misspelled it, but I know it is a word.
REP. SCALETTAR: No, you’re educating me. Also you referred to a natural tension between the company and the advisory council if the company solicits direct opinion from subscribers. Why would you see that as a natural tension if the advisory councils are also representing the opinions of viewers?
DONNA GARAFANO: But that’s the question. Do advisory councils truly represent a diversity of opinion or do advisory councils represent in some cases the individual opinions of council members? What I’m saying here is that we have become accustomed over recent years to talking directly to (inaudible – off mic). The issue that seems to focus the attention of this Committee on this subject began last February for the consolidation of Connecticut programs.
We heard immediately from our customers. Now our advisory council would contend that we did not talk to them first. In fact we provided them notification that is required by state law to both advisory councils and (inaudible), but the point is that they decided the action was swift and effective and would take effect immediately. (Inaudible) some of our advisory council members that we didn’t talk to them first.
There is a dichotomy or a conflict, I don’t know what you want to call it in terms of the advisory council and our responsibility to our more general public as well, and that has only been exacerbated by the fact that we have now a notification period (inaudible) which we’re required to observe for both advisory councils and the general public. We’re in a situation where the council has expressed to me that they seem that they, they are not consulted earlier than the time at which we consulted, and it just doesn’t work.
REP. SCALETTAR: Well, with respect to the Connecticut channel, that particular instance you would say consumers and customers let you know right away how they felt about it.
DONNA GARAFANO: They certainly did.
REP. SCALETTAR: However, I thought cablevision had said that they made the change based on customer surveys and that’s what customers wanted.
DONNA GARAFANO: They did. They are correct. We made our change based on surveys of 800 subscribers, as many. It is also correct that subscribers that don’t like something are much more quick and vocal and are very fine than the general public so instead I still run into people. In fact I talked to two legislators yesterday who said, we thought that was a good idea.
Unfortunately though those are the less vocal people and we are forced to listen to public opinion. Both answers are correct.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Any other questions? Thank you, Donna.
DONNA GARAFANO: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: John Porio.
JOHN PORIO: I’m John Porio, manager of Government Affairs for Cablevision of Connecticut and Cablevision of Southern Connecticut. I wanted to spend my time showing some tapes of examples of some of the public access programming that’s shown on the two systems. I’m going to go over a little bit, a little bit more than three minutes if that’s okay.
SEN. PETERS: Fine.
JOHN PORIO: I’ll start off with the Cablevision of Connecticut system.
JOHN PORIO: This is from the Connecticut system. We have a tape from Southern Connecticut system, but this pretty much gives us pretty good show, just an example of some of the things.
SEN. PETERS: I’d like just to see – unless the members of the Committee want to see that other tape. I’d like you to make your point.
JOHN PORIO: Okay. I’d be happy to take some questions, and we do have some people from Cablevision of Connecticut and Cablevision of Southern Connecticut to talk about public access specifically. I think they might be able to answer questions a little bit better.
SEN. PETERS: I’m trying to understand maybe because it’s been a long day and this is an interesting and involved subject, what you were trying to, the message you were trying to give to us with respect to your tape.
JOHN PORIO: The tape is an example of all of, giving examples of all the different programming that we have. The point of putting the tape together the way we did is to show that we have excellent programming. We have programming that can be deemed effective, and probably in many people’s eyes should be deemed effective. The fact is all of the things that were shown on the tape are things that have appeared on the air, and just wanted to show specifically examples of this.
SEN. PETERS: Any questions?
REP. SCALETTAR: I presume implicitly in your showing the tapes you’re trying to tell us that there’s a variety of public access programming, that some of is would commonly be deemed offensive.
JOHN PORIO: That’s what you obviously would infer by some of the examples that we showed. Some of the examples that we showed also show that there is play in various access programming, issues that are hot and issues that are important to a lot of the members of the community.
REP. SCALETTAR: But there’s no other message you intended to deliver.
JOHN PORIO: It’s just an example.
REP. SCALETTAR: Okay.
JOHN PORIO: We do have two people coming up to speak about programming.
SEN. PETERS: Well, it certainly woke me up. Alright, thank you.
JOHN PORIO: Thank you.
COLIN MCMANUS: Senator Peters and members of the Committee, allow me the opportunity to read from the written statement. I’m Colin McManus. I’m the public access administrator for Cablevision of Connecticut, here in Connecticut is our cable system serving 10 communities in lower Fairfield County. We have over 100,000 subscribers on our system. Those 100,000 subscribers and residents of our cable system will all at one time or another be able to use our public access facility. It’s not limited to any business parties.
I will begin my statement. Cablevision of Connecticut believes that the spirit and vitality of our communities can be enhanced with support and encouragement and utilization of local, non-commercial cable programming produced by the communities and members of them. There are many miles of public access and in this franchise area, access is conducted in house using our facilities, both mobile facilities, editing facilities and studio facilities.
It is also staffed by members of the cablevision system, employees thereof, cablevision company. We feel that our facilities are exemplary and we found our program is extremely successful in this area. Cablevision makes available to any person, group or organization in our franchise use of the public access channel, designated channel 27. The channel’s available on a first come, non-discriminatory basis. Training is available to help members of the community utilize its access channel in order to present their views perspectives and information that to the communities that which to reach out.
Cablevision’s public access channel is available 24 hours, seven day a week basis. There is no charge for channel time for use of the Cablevision public access facilities or equipment or the training course we do offer or for the systems and Cablevision personnel producing this program. Cablevision currently carries approximately 84 hours of public access programming each week. This number is a tremendous increase from our single half hour program submitted back in 1983 by the Salvation Army, Cablevision’s first access presentation. Cablevision employs a full time access administrator who reports directly to the program director. That person is responsible for coordinating all productions utilizing Cablevision’s facilities, the scheduling of all access programming for cablecast and the administrating teaching events training program. This person is also available to answer questions from the community regarding the use of our facilities and our channels among other duties needed to facilitate the use of the channels. We also employ full time public access production assistant responsible for studio and remote and post production, and our clerical personnel available to type schedules and answer phones concerning access activities.
In addition to our staff devoted exclusively to public access, Cablevision also makes available services from other full time employees of the system including technicians or members of the engineering departments, programming departments, public affairs, master control and editing departments.
Cablevision provides complete state of the art facilities, including a three camera studio, remote van with four camera capability and post production editing suites available for use in half inch and three quarter inch formats. We have also upgraded to these facilities on a regular yearly basis. We have an annual budget and we feel that our equipment far exceeds the demands put upon this budget we see as far as what we need for public access production.
In order to assist community members to make the best use of the access facility, Cablevision of Connecticut offers an access training course continuously throughout the year. The training course will run one day a week for four consecutive weeks, three hours per section, resulting in a twelve hour course. Since its inception this course has trained approximately 1280 area residents.
This is training in the use of stereo equipment, editing facilities, site surveys, lighting, stripping, and any production related experience that we feel is beneficial to get people into the studio, on location and produce their programming for the channel. We have graduated more than 1500 area residents and they have been qualified access users and received a certificate of completion of the course and they may now use the facilities.
In addition, Cablevision offers a director’s workshop for access users interested in learning the intricacies of three camera studio production. The staff also gives advance hands on one and one training for those coming to us with questions regarding editing and in need of help in their productions. To promote access, Cablevision of Connecticut lists in a monthly cable guide all access programs that are scheduled far enough in advance prior to the guide’s publication deadline. Upcoming programs are listed on “On Cablevision”. This is an numeric guide that we put on channel 14 which is carried with the weather channel at certain times during the hour we open that up, but it is the numeric channel listing all the area access programs that run on a regular basis on Channel 27 as well as educational and governmental access programs.
Let me point out we have four access channels in lease, government, educational and access. In summary, Cablevision of Connecticut is highly committed to maintaining its modern public access program. We feel that we far exceed requirements placed upon us by the DPUC, and we will continue to build on this strength and commitment by working as closely as we can with access users for the improvement of the channel and its recognition as a community, information and entertainment resource, and I’d be happy if you have any questions.
SEN. PETERS: Colin, you mention 1500 residents graduated from your, or participants graduated from your.
COLIN MCMANUS: Right. It’s a certification program whereby they have completed 12 hours of training access training workshop and they receive a certificate in the mail. They also have to pass the exam, the 25 question exam, the necessary abilities to safely use the equipment.
SEN. PETERS: Over what period of time was that? How long have you been doing this?
COLIN MCMANUS: I’ve been with the company five years.
SEN. PETERS: So over five years, there were 1500 certified individuals.
COLIN MCMANUS: This goes back when access was first put into place I think back in 1983.
SEN. PETERS: Okay, and you mentioned a figure 1280 previously. What was that connected to? Just before the 1500, you mentioned 1280.
COLIN MCMANUS: Well, let me. We also qualify access users through – they can forego the access training. In other words, if they’ve already had our training, and they take up, if they pass the exam, that would qualify them.
SEN. PETERS: Okay, so the 12.
COLIN MCMANUS: Provide one on one training (inaudible), which is enough to get them, to pass that exam. They take the exam, forego the formal training period and become qualified for that.
SEN. PETERS: So the 1280 would be of the 1500.
COLIN MCMANUS: Right.
SEN. PETERS: But those go in a different direction.
COLIN MCMANUS: They formally went through the course and then were actually the numbers that forego that formal training.
SEN. PETERS: Sounds like a good program to me. Any questions? Representative Scipio.
REP. SCIPIO: It sounds like you have a wonderful reputation in that, but where did you say you were located?
COLIN MCMANUS: We’re in Norwalk.
REP. SCIPIO: Norwalk?
COLIN MCMANUS: Yes, we serve ten communities from Greenwich on up to Westport and then Cablevision of Southern Connecticut provides access to communities from Fairfield township on up into Woodbridge.
REP. SCIPIO: Do you work with colleges, etc. or just your own fiscal means that you use.
COLIN MCMANUS: We work within our own institutional rules. We have an access self guidelines and rules that we have.
REP. SCIPIO: Can any of the community colleges come in to the problems with the process of you’re doing?
COLIN MCMANUS: Well, certainly they have a major part in the cable council as far as building that. In fact we have over the years amended it to accommodate certain requests directed (inaudible).
REP. SCIPIO: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Mr. McManus, you’ve described what sounds like an ambitious and successful program. I’m just wondering if you’ve had any complaints of problems about availability of studio time or access to your channel.
COLIN MCMANUS: There has been not conflict. There has been concern about it, but presently we do offer enough time, but then again we operate on a first come first serve basis as long as someone who is applied for access for a certain time slot. As long as they can provide a tape to fill that time slot, they will be granted that time until which time they decide they are no longer going to produce programming for that time slot. Then it becomes available for the next person.
REP. SCALETTAR: So, okay, I guess I’m clear about that. If somebody comes in for prime time, it’s awarded on a first come first serve basis, and you have no means of rotating that. So somebody who’s got the time has it for as long as he or she wants it?
COLIN MCMANUS: That’s how we operate.
SEN. PETERS: That’s my understanding that’s how most of them operate.
COLIN MCMANUS: I would point out that there are very few ongoing programs as opposed to those who do rotate. I feel that it’s in our best interest to keep some time left available. In fact I’ve had very few problems over the years at Cablevision as far as actual cable casting time. Studio time is a premium however. We’d would like to point out that we have studio time available any afternoon which is rarely taken advantage of either because people in the community aren’t available as they are working full time jobs.
They volunteer their efforts of course, but we have not yet seen use of the facility when it is made available from the hours set out. Basically programming from studio production is from 7 o’clock p.m. to 10 o’clock p.m.
REP. SCALETTAR: I’m not clear what you’re saying. During those periods of time, you’re doing public access programming, or you’re doing other programming.
COLIN MCMANUS: Public access programming.
REP. SCALETTAR: And there are people coming and using it from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. or you make it available.
COLIN MCMANUS: From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. is the primary use of time. However, it is available at other times. I’d just like to point out that those times are being taken advantage of.
REP. SCALETTAR: Do you have any weekend time?
COLIN MCMANUS: Yes, we do.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you very much. Brian Merry.
BRIAN MERRY: Who wants to tell me not to be nervous?
SEN. PETERS: Don’t be nervous. It wasn’t too long ago I used to do that, and my knees would knock the whole time I sat there.
BRIAN MERRY: My testimony is very similar in specifications to Colin, so I’m not going to read my statement. I’ll make some comments and then be available for your questions. My name is Brian Merry. I work for Fairfield University. I am access coordinator to Cablevision of Southern Connecticut, cable franchise. That’s Channel 34. We serve six towns – Woodbridge, Stratford, Orange, Bridgeport, Fairfield and Milford.
In 1990 Cablevision entered a partnership with Fairfield University to operate Channel 34. Fairfield University previously had operated out of UB. When the operation came to Fairfield University, there were 30 programs on the channel. We now have 80 programs on the channel, and we operate from 7 a.m. in the morning on Sunday morning to 12 midnight, and then Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. – 62 hours of programming. From 1 p.m. in the afternoon until four we do our community bulletin board which is very popular.
I have a three camera color studio available to the public, two edit suites and three remote cameras that get checked out on a regular basis. We’re very popular. The studio is working all the time and the edit suites are always full. There is always time available for the next person. We let our people book only two edit sessions or two studio sessions, so that we can keep it moving. A person can hold a time slot on our cable for 16 weeks and then they can change it. After eight weeks they can reapply for that same time slot. During the first eight weeks anybody else can apply for a time slot that’s available. I know that’s not clear.
SEN. PETERS: No, it’s not. Actually I may interrupt you for a second because this kind of gets to the crux of some of the issues that I’ve been concerned with the last year or so. You’re saying that your programming can rotate essentially on a weekly basis with some hiatus arrangement in between.
BRIAN MERRY: This is a WFAC policy. That’s something that we came up with in response to complaints, that people could not get access to Thursday at 10 or it’s vital 9 o’clock on Thursday. Someone access would hold that slot. They would be very faithful about giving the show, but what we did was institute that you could only hold a slot for 16 weeks, and you could reapply after eight weeks to hold that slot again, but during that first eight weeks, why you reapplied, anybody else who wanted Thursday at 9 o’clock could apply for it and get it.
It would open up that position and that goes for all our regularly scheduled programming. Now anybody else can, so you can get any slot you want if you’re willing wait up to four months, and then see what’s available. Otherwise, we’ll put you on whenever there’s a slot available. I have two full time employees assisting me and assisting the public in working, getting the work done. We offer training courses. The training course is to get people to do television.
We do not make television experts as you can see by the quality of programming. People learn how to do television by doing it. You can’t teach someone how to do produce programming in 15 hours. You can teach them the basics and how not to hurt your equipment so that the next person gets to use it. A lot of people who sign up for training don’t do it for access purposes. This is a free course. There is no restrictions on who comes in the door, and a lot of people with different agendas than participating in the access forum take the training. I found that out. I’d say that 50% of the people that use, sign up for training we never see again after the training is done.
SEN. PETERS: On any given day.
BRIAN MERRY: We’re tracking 111 members, whether they’re on the training books, delivering programming, using studios, booking shows or what not. Since we’ve started we’ve dealt with about 500 access producers. We’ve trained about I want to say
(cass 2) (cassettes 1 and 2 don’t connect, small gap)
SEN. PETERS: How do you let the community or the public know that this service could be available to them?
BRIAN MERRY: The Cablevision, the cable company that we’re in partnership with makes, I know it’s available in their guide. There’s a section on it, and also there’s a show called cable talk in which they feature access television, and I’ve appeared on it. That’s how I know. I believe also we’ve had a relationship. I’ve appeared at advisory council meetings (inaudible).
I talk with school groups, a relationship with colleges, they produce programs for us. I wanted to make a comment about advisory councils. Somebody said, I was listening to somebody remarks that there was different agendas. I’ve always considered it a resource to the access operation, and I think it could be more of a resource. I was always hoping that when you saw some of the programming that we have to deal with. I get the calls and defend person’s right to put on that programming. It was very difficult at times. If I had a resource that I could go to to enforce the community standard it might be advantageous to access television. That there be some kind of a rhyme or some kind of a resource that programming could be, questionable programming could be (inaudible). I’m not in favor of any kind of censorship. Somebody else mentioned responsibility of the cable company.
SEN. PETERS: I’m not in favor of any censorship either and I quickly learned that that’s an issue of censorship and First Amendment rights and so forth and so on that was first brought up in the public access bill last year.
BRIAN MERRY: I think people have the right to free speech. They do not have the right to an audience. I think you have a right to speak, but you should have the ability to come in.
SEN. PETERS: Any questions or comments?
BRIAN MERRY: I’m done.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you very much. Maurice Cunningham. Gaye Hodge.
GAYE HODGE: I will have to take up time because I did not submit anything in writing. The reason I didn’t receive the letter informing us. I understand there were questions on there so I had no knowledge of that, and did not know until today that they were written. I apologize. I would have spent some time and done that for you.
SEN. PETERS: That’s alright.
GAYE HODGE: I went to my first advisory council meeting about seven years ago, not really understanding what the role of an advisory council was, but I had become involved in my town doing public access and doing PEG access, doing public education and government access as a volunteer, and I attended council meetings for years and then I found out what it took to become a member of the council and requested of my board of selectmen to be appointed, and I had to undergo interviews. I had to submit a resume, and I also had to send in letters of recommendation to my board of selectmen in order to be appointed to this advisory council. At the time my council was involved in franchise renewal, so when I did become appointed I really was baptized, and we were undergoing with the heritage franchise that’s now been changed to a TCI franchise in south central Connecticut, and I am now the chairman of this advisory council. We have seven towns. We have approximately 60,000 approaching 60,000 subscribers, and seven independent public access entities in each town and then one company runs the facility in Branford.
What I would like to speak to you tonight is that one is that maybe perhaps some type of uniform, a level playing field so to speak or public access throughout the state and maybe for advisory councils. I started asking questions there was no place I could go to get any information. I had no clue as to what exactly an advisory council member was supposed to do.
What I have started in the last several months since I became chairman last year was with the help of Janet Poss who was from Guilford, my home town, putting together a book. We call it a big large book, and it’s going to be called cable advisory council south central and in this is every rule, regulation from federal, state, and even our local rules and regulations having to do with anything with cable, because we had nowhere to go for this information, up to date information, and we’ve had, Janet Poss has been very helpful in finding legislation that goes back so far that we couldn’t find it anywhere, so fortunately that is something is in our horizon in our franchise, and I would think that it would be welcome probably to any new member of any council in the State of Connecticut. I wouldn’t have anything to do with the local, but at least the state regulations and federal regulations would be in a place that would go with the appointment, not with the person, but it could be passed down so that no one person has to start from scratch to have amass all of this information. No one provided that to me when I became a member of the council.
SEN. PETERS: Can I just say for the record, no one provided me anything when I became a Senator.
GAYE HODGE: You’re right. It’s learning on the job, but perhaps there is some need for a boiler plate of all operating procedures that could be uniform throughout the state, and this has to do with not only councils, but with public access groups. Our advisory council has incorporated as a non-profit 501-C corporation, and that has become necessary because members who serve on this council are concerned about liability, and throughout the franchise renewal process, I can say that we, our council, and the members on it, we would have expected a little more of allied role with the DPUC instead of an adversarial role with the DPUC. It was a learning experience for us. We had no idea what we were getting into when we became members of the council, and we went through three final decisions on a roller coaster ride primarily with public access. It was up and down and at the end the DPUC in their final decision, the third one gave the discretion to the council to distribute, take access funds to this franchise to the seven towns and that’s quite a responsibility for volunteers to come and go and that’s another thing I want to address is the fact that we have members who are appointed to the council who do not attend meetings.
Our latest member, our newest member to the council I called a few weeks ago to welcome him. I received a letter from the mayor and asked him if he had interest in what cable issues. I said, did he rate the program and such and such, and he said no, he just liked the videotaped football and ice hockey. He didn’t have any other interest in cable at all.
SEN. PETERS: You’ve got it.
GAYE HODGE: I said, well, I hope that you will have an interest because we have committees to handle all kinds of things, subscriber issues and other things within the franchise, and hopefully that will change, but we do have members on the council who might come to a meeting occasionally, will sit there and walking out the door, do not have any involvement in the cable issues and they go back to their town and volunteer with their public access group, but per se there are many other cable issues that we want to have.
We helped with a subscriber survey that just went out in the mail in the last month or so in our franchise, and we sat down with the company members. The advisory council sat down and helped regulate the questions that were asked of the subscribers and I really appreciated the opportunity to do that with the cable companies. We’ve had a relationship, I think a very good relationship with the company. At times it appears to be adversarial, but it’s not. It’s when you ask questions, some people assume because you’re asking questions, you’re anti-cable, and I try to explain that that is not the case. We’re there to represent subscribers’ interests, and if we don’t ask questions about the re-bill that’s going on, if we don’t ask questions about – it’s like the yard being torn up and not being notified ahead of time, and if we don’t address these issues to the company at the council meeting, then other people might say well, you should let the company run its business and stay off their back which I have been told. I feel I have a roll there, and I do take it seriously.
One thing that I’d like to suggest is possibly a liaison at the DPUC for advisory councils. I bother a gentleman here quite a bit. I’ve called him over the years many, many times, and have had meetings up there with him, and I really appreciate that, but we’re learning on the job, and I would like to express my appreciation for all the help that they have been giving us, but maybe perhaps this one particular individual commissioner that is with cable issues that can be used as a mediate any dispute that comes up at our council, for instance, something to that extent.
I have a question for you also. The question calls for people to think. Are the towns who appoint us liable for any risk of whatever performance by any of the council members because we’re looking into buying insurance, and we have no budget to afford this, but we have members who don’t want to serve there because I liability, and we’re wondering because the towns have appointed us whether or not that is something you might be able to address in your research.
The other is, are access groups that are independent, non-profit that are all volunteer, are they actually sub-contractors for the cable company? I mean, they’re programming in our franchise three channels in each town, are they in your eyes a contractor or sorts through the cable company Those are questions that come up all the time at our meetings, and we do not know at all.
SEN. PETERS: Can you just hold on those two questions?
GAYE HODGE: Sure.
SEN. PETERS: Because they’re thought provoking. We actually don’t have an answer that we could rely on. I have opinions on that. Is there anybody here that would know for a fact what the answer to those two questions would be?
: Wouldn’t that be something like YMCA board?
Wouldn’t it be similar to YMCA board? I mean considering they volunteer for the board.
GAYE HODGE: They’re not appointed by their elected town officials.
REP. SCALETTAR: I will just comment that liability of board members is covered by statute, and there is indemnification for many voluntary board members, but I would not venture to say what the situation is for cable companies and frequently liability of board members is a complex question, and with respect to the status of a company and I’m not sure your question is very technically formulated, whether someone is a contractor or sub-contractor. It’s likewise a very technical, legal question, and I don’t think any of us would be well advised to try to answer that.
SEN. PETERS: You know I would suggest that you go back to your town attorney and ask him for a ruling on that. I am sorry.
GAYE HODGE: I have one question about the regulation regards the conflict of interest if you serve on the advisory council. I understand that the one is that they’re not employed by a cable company, but in our franchise in our council right now, we have one town who refused to appoint a council member because the conflict, she was the president of her local public access group. They felt it was a conflict of interest, so she had to resign from the public access group in order to maintain her appointment to the council, whereas in another town a gentleman who likes to videotape football and ice hockey gets appointed to the advisory council.
Is there some way that there could be more specificity passed as to what type of appointments and what these conflicts of interest are? I mean we have no way to answer these questions at all.
SEN. PETERS: Without being discriminatory.
GAYE HODGE: Exactly.
SEN. PETERS: I heard that there’s kind of a fee for some folks receiving this, testifying. I’m certainly going to take a look at the whole advisory council, control and make up and appointments. Any comments or questions? Representative.
REP. ROY: Concerning the conflict of interest on the advisory committee, do I understand you that no one on the board can have interest in the company?
GAYE HODGE: That’s regulative.
REP. ROY: What if you were working with a company or a franchise like that, and then as that franchise goes through you couldn’t work for them (inaudible – mic off).
GAYE HODGE: I don’t know of anything. There might be a perception in some people’s minds of something, but you could ask DPUC because they created this regulation, created the advisory councils, and I understand that this is the one other than being employed by a cable company, (inaudible – mic off), but we just came across this in the last three months because we’re trying to get our appointments and trying to get the council full, the appointments full, and it is a political appointment by virtue of the fact that the elected town official from each town appoints them, but with the town officials it makes them arbitrary criteria and how they will appoint members to the council.
It’s difficult to understand what the role of the council is when you have people who come with so much or baggage, but some baggage or without any baggage, what do you do when you have a role playing of the advisory council regarding the use of subscribers and you have this. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you.
REP. SCIPIO: How many are on your board?
GAYE HODGE: We have, we’re actually also, I think it is at other times, we have 27, if we had them all full. We have seven towns and it’s all done by population and we have some large towns in there, and we have created within our organization the position of alternate, and the reason why is because the regular appointees don’t come to the meetings so we have found alternates who come to the meetings regularly and we ask them to serve. They don’t vote, but they can certainly come and participate by serving on a committee or helping within, but it’s difficult sometimes to get the appointed member off and get the alternate bumped up, and that’s all I’m sure because of political reasons, but it would be, it’s important I think to have somebody from each town there representing the interest of the town and the fact that they’re not a full appointment, if they’re an alternate, we welcome them, and I don’t know if other towns have that position, but again if we could address possibly finding some way to remove the people who don’t attend the meetings, if there could be something in regulations, if they don’t attend X% of meetings, the council can throw you off.
: (Inaudible – off mic)
GAYE HODGE: What?
: (Inaudible – off mic)
GAYE HODGE: It’s created from the DPUC created advisory councils, but it would be nice if there was some way that we could just say.
SEN. PETERS: I would submit that that particular concern of yours is more based growth and could be handled on a municipal level, concerns as (inaudible – off mic).
GAYE HODGE: I think it’s wrong for our town.
SEN. PETERS: Sorry. If you ask your town attorney, and I’m sure that he would be very happy to address some of these.
GAYE HODGE: Thank you. I will. Thank you very much.
SEN. PETERS: Jamie Boss.
JAMIE BOSS: My name is Jamie Boss. I’m the chairman of the advisory council of southern Connecticut. I’ve also been in the past a producer for public access. I own my own video production company, so I make my living with video. I’d like to start off with the subject of the advisory council. I notice that it was mentioned by a few people here tonight that they thought that because of the new competition that’s coming down the road that they felt that the advisory council may no longer be necessary.
As somebody who is on an advisory council, my opinion is that eventually the advisory council may not be necessary, but the technology that we’re going to be going through in the next three to five years is going to change so much that in that context, I think advisory councils are still a viable format. When the industry gets to the point where there is not an abundance of technological breakthroughs in the industry, I think at that point we might find that the advisory council may not be necessary at that time.
I would also like to include that as long as there is public access and a community concern to public access that will be probably always be a viable purpose or reason for some sort of advisory council. When I got your letter to come here tonight, I was a little bit surprised at the first question which is what is the role of an advisory council.
I think that Connecticut statutes pretty well mandate what the role is and the role is to advisory a cable company as to the needs of the community. I don’t think you have a role problem. I think you have a technical problem. I think in terms of the statutes, we don’t have the mechanism to make an advisory council effective. It doesn’t make a difference how many people we have on an advisory council. You may have only one person from a town, but you have a solid mechanism where the advisory council knew what they should do, you would be much better off and the public would want their concerns.
An example, if you look at Connecticut statutes as to the function of the advisory council, it simply says that the advisory council can advise the cable companies anything it deems necessary, and I have called the DPUC a few times and asked them about this statement, and the response was this could be good or it could be bad, depending upon the leadership of the advisory council, and I agree that if you’re particularly advisory council that it may be very well true that you can accomplish an awful lot, but if you’re an advisory council that may have a very underpowered leader for lack of a better word, you might not accomplish anything at all.
I think the DPUC should provide an advisory council with some form of guidelines, and by providing the advisory council with some form of guidelines, you in effect, make the difference of all the conflict of issues, problems that you run into with an advisory council, because if the advisory council has to manage itself within a narrow margin, if you don’t give it such a wide latitude that they only have to concentrate on certain things, then the individual who wants to take advantage of trying to get the sports programs on, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, so I think you have bring in the scope of what the advisory council can do.
It might even be true that you may not need as many people from a township as we have. For instance, in Woodbridge where I come from we have four members on the advisory council. We have a town of 50,000 people. I don’t know if we need more members. What we need is a couple of good members. A few people have brought up the question of membership on the advisory council not showing up.
In our charter, we simply say that if you miss three months, this is the charter that we have generated, if you miss three months, and you don’t have an excuse, we drop you. If you’d like to be reinstated, you can be reinstated as long as the mayor sends us a letter saying that he would like you to be reinstated.
REP. SCALETTAR: But may I interrupt you there for a minute. You’ve got something that you implement.
JAMIE BOSS: We implement. I just dropped two people from Woodbridge and the mayor’s not too happy, and the point is that eventually even if the mayor wants you on the board, he’s going to get awful tired of having to write this reinstatement letter and he’s going to catch on and find somebody else, and eventually they will get the point that they need to find somebody who is good at what they do.
I don’t envy a mayor who’s job is picking the people on advisory council because you get people (inaudible). You get doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, housewives and everybody else in the world. Most people on an advisory council, and it’s been my experience, not only in my council, but talking to other councils is that the people know very little about the technology, and I even had people on our advisory council who don’t have cable television, and that tells me a lot because if they don’t have cable television, it’s kind of hard for them to understand what cable is all about. But that’s the mayor’s choice and I don’t envy him, but what I’m trying to say is that it’s a very difficult thing to appoint people to an advisory council and perhaps not appointing so many may give the mayor a better chance at appointing the right person. The advisory council in our area, we go from Woodbridge, Orange, Milford, Stratford, Bridgeport and Fairfield, six towns. I hope I haven’t left anybody out. We have tried very hard to work with our cable company. This is something that we’d like very much to do.
Much of the time we’re adversarial to our cable companies. We’re not a milk toast to the (inaudible). We don’t always get along with our cable companies, but if there’s a reason why we don’t get along with our cable company it’s because we don’t have the guidelines that we need to know how to deal with the cable companies. When you get that many personalities in one room, we have probably 25 people on our advisory council and you get that many interpretations of what our role is as an advisory council we get a lot of arguments. We get a lot of incorrect thinking as to what our role should be, and the consequence is that we get into arguments with the cable companies, so what I guess the most important thing to me in terms of an advisory council is for the DPUC if possible to narrow the scope, provide us with solid guidelines, and the advisory council should not go out of those guidelines.
I think that would make the advisory council much more effective. In terms of public access I used to be a public access producer. As soon as I cam on the advisory council, I stopped producing public access programming. The reason for it is I personally felt it was a conflict of interest. We currently have a few people on our advisory council who are producers for public access, and it does produce conflict of interest. The reason it does is because much of time the cable company was getting his input as to what equipment is needed for the public access facility from the advisory council, and individuals can very easily take advantage of that fact, and say, well gee, we need a new camera, and push the fact they’re benefiting their own program.
If you have a problem with getting people to use public access, it’s probably one of image. I’m sure you agree that with the advent of Wayne’s World and all of this on television, that image is the problem for public access. So it’s a little bit of a corporate image problem you have in the face if you wish to get people to use public access more.
My suggestion would be don’t call it public access, call it community television. Do away with the word public access. We have a problem with producers taking up time in our system because the whole idea of public access should be that anybody in that community has access to put their programming on television. What public access has become is a showcase for producers all over the state to go from one public access facility to another to another with programming not produced in that area, so consequently a producer can produce a program in the Norwalk system, at the same time bring it over to our system, and I know some producers who even go far enough to bring it over to the New Haven system.
SEN. PETERS: Jamie, I don’t want to be rude here, but we could be sitting here until midnight, so I can tell you’re very learned about your subject and we appreciate for purposes of this committee because you have brought some excellent ideas, and as I said we will be looking at the advisory council and its role. If you could bullet some of your thoughts and mail it to us, I’ll be happy to leave my card with you, and you can do that. Okay, so do you want to sum up?
JAMIE BOSS: I’m summed up.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you. Any questions? Yes, Representative Roy.
REP. ROY: Council chairman (inaudible) alluded to the fact that not all council members are the best quality.
JAMIE BOSS: Quality is a bad word. They’re not prepared because, it might be a housewife that has no interest or they might be a dentist with no interest, or they might be homeowner who has no interest in cable.
REP. ROY: My question is, are they people who may have a gripe on what is going on in just their cable, and they go to the mayor to get appointed so they can have their say?
JAMIE BOSS: Absolutely.
REP. ROY: So we may be getting just some malcontents who were causing problems for you.
JAMIE BOSS: Absolutely. I think the appointment (inaudible) and that unfortunately falls under (inaudible), but it’s very easy to get someone who’s discontent on the advisory council and he causes trouble for the cable company. They didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that he feels they charge too much for each of the hours (inaudible).
SEN. PETERS: Jamie, I goofed. I was not aware that you’re actually from this district so if you would send your comments to Representative Scalettar, she will see that they get to us. Thank you very much. Mitch Goldblatt.
MITCH GOLDBLATT: Senator Peters, members of the Committee, thank you for having public hearings here. I’m Mitch Goldblatt from the Town of Orange. I’m a member of the board of selectmen, but I’m here on my own accord speaking as a member of the general public, and I hope that my status shooting around comments aren’t ones that necessarily should go to the advisory committee that we’ve heard from tonight, but are hopefully to your attention as well.
First of all concerning competition in Cablevision in the State of Connecticut, I think it is a great idea. It is needed in this state. It is needed in this area because of prices and because of programming selection, and I say that because I’ve watched cable bills rise for myself and my neighbors and people I work with, and the competition needs to be developed in this area.
Second of all, we’ve seen a lesson tonight about the Connecticut satellite idea and how it was swiftly taken away. That is not correct. If you live in this area, you saw the Connecticut channel was slippery in the vote on the people in this area. It wasn’t until an outcry that was prolonged by not only the state Representatives in this area, but also the public that was taken away. It was far too swift, and it had people very worried about it, and I think it was very unfortunate that whole thing happened. I think everyone learned from it, especially based on the waiting period that now has been invoked by Legislature for any such changes in the future.
We have seen some examples tonight of public access television. My idea of public access television is more like having a camera in this room or a camera in a zoning board hearing, selectmen’s hearing. That was my envision of public access or community television. I don’t think we have enough of that in this state, especially in this area, and it’s time to keep a forum in an area to have an opportunity to show what they can do on television and to have people have the opportunity to see them, but I think it’s more important at this time for people who are homebound, for people who can’t get out to very important meetings in their own town, whether they be town meetings or budget hearings, important zoning meetings.
Any opportunity to see that on cable maybe to tape it if it’s on an hour that they can’t be there and watch it later so they understand the issues in their towns I think is very important for community television. Finally, one last point and Senator Peters, I’m sorry to talk about hockey, but it has been recorded in our local press that there was a situation where a national network was dropped by Southern Connecticut Cablevision, and then because of an outpour and cry, it was put back on WLIG of Long Island was found that we didn’t have to take on that channel because it wasn’t part of the Milford, Orange, Woodbridge section of Southern Connecticut Cablevision. Milford, Orange and Woodbridge are part of the New Haven-Hartford access area and not the New York access area.
By the same token I feel it’s the same people. This may be a personal viewpoint, but I’ll tell you why. The same people of Milford, Orange and Woodbridge also deserve to see the sports channel from New England and not from New York. Governor Weicker may not like to hear this, but unfortunately there’s still only one professional major league sports team in the State of Connecticut, the Hartford Whalers, and a good portion of the state cannot view the Hartford Whalers on television because they have to view the New York sports teams just based on that access, and this has been found out from the national network that part of that Southern Connecticut Cablevision is part of New Haven-Hartford area. I think that area should be able to receive, whether it by accident or by choice or by when it’s changed, these sports channels by paying for it from New England. I’d be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: You’re going to love our community access bill. Any questions? Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Good evening, Mitch. Glad you could come. You mentioned that your view of public access would include more meetings like this one or more commissions, and I agree with you it would be wonderful to have those, but are you aware of any laws or regulations now that preclude that coming on soon to public access television, and have you thought about ways to maximize it?
MITCH GOLDBLATT: I haven’t given it a lot of thought as to how it can be maximized except that I’m sure with certain towns, if the mechanism records those events not necessarily to play live, but be recorded and put on the community access or public access channel circuit lines. I don’t know of any, them may, I don’t know of any laws or statutes that would preclude that. We have had, as someone has served previously on the zoning board, we have had zoning board hearings videotaped by private individuals, but I don’t anything that would preclude that.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
MITCH GOLDBLATT: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Any other questions or comments? Thank you very much. Nancy Polk. Patiently waiting in the front row. You’ve been here all night.
NANCY POLK: Thank you for holding this hearing and giving us an opportunity to speak directly to you about the concerns. I’m a member of the advisory council to Cablevision of Southern Connecticut. It’s not an easy task to provide advice to a company based on the phone calls we get and conversations we get from frustrated subscribers. They’ve all come to us as a last resort having encountered indifferent service or constant busy signals. First we are not a very well known body, and I would request that you require all cable companies to enclose a separate piece of paper in their bill statements that includes a brief description of the advisory council’s (inaudible). Also list the names, addresses and phone numbers of council members and the regular meeting time and place so that subscribers will be fully informed about us.
On the reverse side should appear a paragraph about public access television, the address of the access studio and the existence of mobile vans. This should be printed boldly in type sufficient for elderly subscribers to read comfortably, and this for two specific reasons. Many of the concerns voiced about cable service come from elderly and home bound subscribers and the box number of the cable advisory council has been printed in tiny type in pale gray ink on the back of Cablevision’s bill.
I defy any of you to read this. It’s no longer a problem. Now they print nothing on the current bill. Frankly we could use some help. At our monthly meetings I often feel like David the first time he sees Goliath. We’re a small voluntary body who meet together monthly to try to compel the cable companies to honor its commitments to subscribers. Could the DPUC assign the 26 cable advisory councils a staff person to answer our questions?
The council is force to rely upon cable companies for most of their information, and whenever the information to the council begins with your responsibility does not include I start to worry. We often find their information statutorily incorrect, distorted or has omitted key portions of the issue at hand. I believe that the quality of service delivered by the cable monopolies in Connecticut depends on the strength of the advisory council.
Recently Cablevision dropped TNN. When an angry subscriber came to the council, we helped her organize support and gave her forum at a meeting. The company has reinstated the channel in the Milford, Woodbridge, Orange service area. We recently characterized Jamie Boss, our chairman, as our mentor. When Cablevision announced its intention to drop the Connecticut Broadcast channel, the council received a barrage of complaints, phone calls and letters. I brought several of them to read. I know time is short. I’ll just read one.
Help us to do our job, to protect subscribers’ interest. Until competition is achieved, the council serves a useful function as an impartial disinterested body of ordinary citizens. As the speed picks up on the information superhighway, the public will need its advisory councils all the more.
SEN. PETERS: We can, Nancy, submit those letters into testimony if you’d like.
NANCY POLK: May I read one?
SEN. PETERS: Oh, yes.
NANCY POLK: Okay. “Dear Nancy, I read you are on Cablevision’s advisory council. My personal experience with Cablevision has been very poor. They do not seem customer oriented at all when it comes to office. One, when trying to change service in the nursing home for our parents, they were abrupt and difficult. Phone calls to them usually got voice mail announcements and no one to talk to in these periods.
“I was charged for service I didn’t have, for at least two years, and until I called the state agency to report it, Cablevision was not helpful in returning funds I paid. It’s difficult to set up a time for repair service. We have to go on their schedule.”
With all of the above I get no sense of compassion or concern for me as a customer. I’d rather see them them at. Bernie Siegel, perhaps you know him as Dr. Siegel, the author. We have several other similar letters. These people have come to the advisory council, but they’ve no place else to go, and they’ve all tried the cable company repeatedly. I’d be happy to take your questions.
SEN. PETERS: I happen to be a big fan of Bernie Siegel. Is there any (inaudible).
NANCY POLK: No, there are some (inaudible) actually, but I will be happy to copy them.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you. You were not the first person this evening that’s asked if there’s some type of criteria or asked to look at the way the relationship between the council and the cable and the DPUC’s role in that. I believe we’ve heard that loud and clear and we’ll look seriously at that.
NANCY POLK: We appreciate it.
SEN. PETERS: Any comments or questions? Thank you very much. Joan Steffons.
JOAN STEFFONS: Good evening. I’m from the advisory council of Storer Connecticut which covers New Haven, West Haven and Hamden. I came here planning to say one thing, I want to preface it by a brief description of our council since there seems to be such variety within the state. We under the statutes, I’d say we’ve all been very conscientious and acted in our group.
We’re familiar with the statutes. We’re familiar with the regulations. We’ve become members of the council by writing a resume to the mayor and saying what our qualifications are, and why we want to serve the public interest, and I think that is the key part of the decision that the mayor makes, that he appoints. Once on the council everyone chooses one of four committees, which briefly are customer service, community input, education and public access legislation.
Each member of the group as I say has become familiar with the legislation. We feel that the mandate being broad as it is gives flexibility to change as the public needs change and as the public perceives such needs and they convey it to us, and we reach the public and let them know of our existence through public meetings. We had a special meeting two weeks ago which was broadcast live on our access channel with call-in questions from people concerning mostly the rate increases, but other problems as well.
We have press releases, letters to the editors which have brought tremendous response from the public. Our address is listed on the Storer bill monthly so people know where to reach us. I happen to be chair of the public access committee, but in the past I would like to just say in terms of our effectiveness as a group, we maintain a good cohesive group because in our by-laws we have addressed that problem of what do you do when you get a person who may just be a political appointment who never comes and never pulls their share of the weight.
We decided that we would not tell that person to leave the council because they were an appointee of the mayor, and so therefore whoever made the appointment should remove that person, but after three meetings, consecutive meetings that are missed, we send a letter to the appointee authority advising that this person is not participating, ask them to be removed and to have someone else appointed who will take a more active role. That happens to be in our by-laws. It’s not in the regulation (GAP IN TAPE) it took a considerable amount of time was a refranchising committee, and I think it’s become clear that most of the advisory councils have felt that they were representing the public in those proceedings.
We met with representatives of the public. We met with the mayors, with the aldermen, heard what their constituents had voiced to them as their need and came up with three goals which was to improve customer service, to technologically upgrade the system since we had had expert advice as to the deterioration of the system, and also to make it part of the franchise that a non-profit organization be picked to run public access. This was the step child of the franchise. They were not putting any effort into the training or the equipment. There was a local group that was a citizens group that picked up the slack and did training of people that were contacted by the board of aldermen to broadcast their meetings. Also wanted to outreach to the public.
One of the things we’ve done as a result of this being successful is to have to negotiate with Storer to have the building of the board of education wired so that we can have that live broadcast so the equipment is available for the board of education. The mayors of both of the towns have asked us to try to make arrangements for their meetings to also be broadcast, so this is a service to the public which people are becoming aware of and it’s attracting more attention to access as such, to the point that while we have an educational channel and public access channel, we have reached the capacity where we are able to ask for a third channel, but just to go back to speaking about the refranchising, knowing what our goals were, we had expert assistance which came from a national organization, and this is what most advisory councils here haven’t seemed to mention. That there is a national network of local cable programmers where you can find out what the experience of any advisory council or any access organization in the country, and it was only through having expert testimony at the DPUC hearings that we could convince themself of this. We also had legal assistance, through sometimes the Yale Law School and money set aside by the mayor of New Haven to provide us with expert legal advice. We worked with the Office of the Consumer Counsel, the Attorney General and in that way even though we had no clout as someone might have put it, written into the law, we established that through our networking and a common goal of wanting to do what was best for the public.
As the chair of the access committee, what my concern now is to have a clear definition of the role of the council to the non-profit organization. In our case, under the refranchising this is a subcontract. We were instrumental in the search and the selection and recommendation to the DPUC. The agreement between the non-profit organization which is called Citizens Television, Incorporated, had to be approved by the DPUC.
That was also a lengthy process because we wanted to have as much autonomy as possible and we were able to develop a state of the art studio which in one year believe has 850 members, and is already outgrown and we take, at least I personally, and the access committee take this broad mandate and relate it to the cable company to extend the non-profit organization. Now that role would have been much clearer.
SEN. PETERS: Joan, could you sort of sum it up.
JOAN STEFFONS: That role would be much clearer to us if HB5153 had passed.
SEN. PETERS: I don’t remember numbers.
JOAN STEFFONS: That’s the last year. I can give you a copy if you want. It almost passed unanimously. It just got left on the calendar at the end of the agenda, and we really would like this whole thing resubmitted and passed because it makes the access company more open to pressure by the public than it is now, and so that was what I wanted to focus on. I’m sure other people from our council are going to elaborate on some of these other things.
I’d also mention that I have an item in our budget so that members can attend these regional national conferences, gain expertise from other people in other parts of the country, and I think that’s very important to any of the advisory councils of the state to outreach the people who have experience.
SEN. PETERS: I just want to let you know there was a lot of support for that bill and the reason it was left on the calendar is because I chose to do that rather than bring out a bill that had an amendment on it to wiretap cellular phones.
JOAN STEFFONS: Oh, really.
SEN. PETERS: So it’s out of the shoot now, so it’s working its way through the channels, and you might want to take another look at it after its official public hearing and maybe do some amendments to it that way. Thank you for your comments, and I would also like to ask you to submit your written comments to Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Do you have it written?
JOAN STEFFONS: No, actually, well this is something that has been written.
SEN. PETERS: If you could just do whatever up and see that Representative Scalettar gets it, okay? I’m sorry. Any questions or comments? Thank you very much. Stuart Arotsky. We’re about coming up to the end of our public hearing, but I would ask, I really don’t want to cut anybody off or prevent somebody from having the ability to testify, so I would ask that if you have written testimony or written comments that you come up and summarize and let’s chat.
STUART AROTSKY: My name is Stuart Arotsky. I am chairman of the cable advisory council from Storer, New Haven, West Haven. I also had experience at the other end of the dial having been the first president of the Citizens’ TV a couple of years ago. That’s the independent non-profit in New Haven, West Haven and Hamden. I can look at it from a private citizen’s point of view who is watching the actions of the advisory council back then and they were wholeheartedly in favor of an independent non-profit and they were very strong advisory council in those days.
I think that was the reason there is an independent non-profit in New Haven, West Haven and Hamden. Having seen how the non-profit has worked, there are as you’ve heard 850 members. There are two channels and there’s going to be a third channel. I as chairman of the cable advisory council had a show. We recently had a public hearing on the channel, which I thought was very useful. We had a live meeting where we invited customer comments and there were people who spoke before us.
There were phone calls all night. I thought it was a very useful way of using the channel to interact between the customers and actually find out what they wanted to say, and that was all made possible because there is an independent non-profit and there are facilities down there. I guess the real thing that’s become clear to me is public access is a patchwork in the state.
We have wonderful facilities in New Haven, but you go down over in Woodbridge and you can’t compare them, and it is like that all over the state. CTV draws people from all over the state to work at our studio to make programs because there isn’t the same kind of independent non-profits in other communities or the same sort of funding devoted to them. Just as not advisory councils. There are not strong advisory councils in every community. As you’ve heard tonight, there are some advisory councils that barely meet.
New Haven has had a tradition of having an advisory council with a lot of strength and I think that’s why things have run better in New Haven than they have in the communities. I’ll cut it short. Basically if there are questions or if you’d like to chat.
SEN. PETERS: I understand what you’re saying by the
inconsistency with the advisory councils and that sis something that we began to look at last year quite frankly.
STUART AROTSKY: I think if there was somebody at the DPUC, because I mean so many seats remain unfilled in advisory councils and the simple question of going back from state agency to the advisory councils, do you have all your seats filled would be useful because there are people who are appointed by mayors that never show up. We are not only advisory council. We’ll follow through with any appointment that has been made, and if the person doesn’t show up, we’ll contact the mayor’s office and replace, and it doesn’t happen in other advisory councils.
There’s no uniformity. It’s like our state. It’s just a mish mosh and we must have some uniformity. It’s not fair to have CTV New Haven doing so well and the rest of the state is hardly accessing anything.
SEN. PETERS: We will be speaking with the DPUC. We meet with them regularly. We’ll talk about this. They’ve heard testimony to the extent that we can, and try to work out solution to the problems that we’ve heard here and maybe without even having to legislate it. Any questions or comments? Representative Scipio.
REP. SCIPIO: Thank you. I watched you when you moved the last few minutes. You did a noble job.
However, I was a little bit disappointed that you didn’t lay into the president of the cable company or something. Whatever it was because his answers were idiotic, childish and totally unrelated to whatever questions you were asking him, and as a council I thought at the time you were the president, I thought you may have, but probably for better part of valor, you couldn’t do it. He should almost be brought up on trial.
And the other part that I found a little bit appreciative or very good was the, I guess you had a communication between the telecasting of the automatic change of it. It’s almost an atrocity to try to listen and watch that thing. You may have all the facilities. I don’t know what goes wrong. I don’t know if that was the night they had the alarm went off in the building there. Is there anything they can do with that?
STUART AROTSKY: Well, unfortunately government access, that is government tv, and if there’s no provision really made in state law, and the only facilities provided by the City of New Haven and they haven’t upgraded it in about eight years. I’ve complained about it regularly and I’ve been trying to get them upgraded. I think now that there’s a new administration they may. That’s government tv. It’s paying access.
Public education, government, there’s no standard made for government access in the entire state and that’s always been fantasy of mine to try and get the towns and the cities to invest in that, and like I said the equipment has not been worked on for a long and it really is a shame because that can be done in every town, New Haven, West Haven, but there has to be the will on the part of the town. I’ve been trying to lobby for it for years, and lobbying in New Haven couldn’t help raising havoc.
REP. SCIPIO: I don’t know if the other members are as good as you are, but you came across very well. I don’t know about the rest of them. Looking at the list and I see a few of them are politically.
SEN. PETERS: Okay, thank you very much.
STUART AROTSKY: Thank you for having this hearing. We really appreciate it.
SEN. PETERS: I’m trying to figure out we have Ed Gittleman and we have Frank Butash with arrows drawn. Frank’s going first?
FRANK BUTASH: Please, Senator Peters.
SEN. PETERS: Nice to see you again.
FRANK BUTASH: Thank you. Thank you. I’ll try to keep from making any smart, humorous remarks. It will be a great struggle. I’m going to ask for permission please to read my remarks because I represent a constituency that has not been heard from tonight and I want the people at the back of the room to hear this as well. I think it’s important.
SEN. PETERS: Excuse me. Did you bring copies?
FRANK BUTASH: I will bring you copies, but I wish to read first, if you don’t mind.
SEN. PETERS: I prefer to follow along as you’re reading if you don’t mind.
FRANK BUTASH: I’ll make a copy as long as you don’t cut me off.
SEN. PETERS: Well, I reserve the right as chair of this Committee to…
FRANK BUTASH: Yes, ma’am, I understand, but as I said…
SEN. PETERS: I’ll take any action I need to..
FRANK BUTASH: Yes, ma’am. I understand.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you. We’re not going to do the same thing as we did last year, right Frank?
FRANK BUTASH: We didn’t do any last year, Senator Peters. My name is Frank Butash, and I’m president of Hartford Late Night, Incorporated, and (inaudible) arts and entertainment non-profit organization, serving the multi-cultural communities of the greater Hartford area.
I’m also the executive producer of Hartford Late Night television, a live two hour arts and entertainment show which we have been producing since February 1991 and are on access television in Hartford. Each year we produce about 45 shows involving about 2000 members of the greater Hartford community as guests, performers and dignitaries and volunteers. We also participate in training.
We are a family oriented and we support traditional family values and there is definitely by policy of multi-cultural organizations. That’s not part of the written statement. That’s just a comment. We’re also distributed on five cable networks in the greater Hartford area and go to approximately 20,000 homes. We’re involved in a unique and significant component of the Hartford television community. We learn about all the challenges facing users of the public access system, the consequences of our experience in the form and sponsors of Cable Television Producers Association, which is an independent organization whose interests pertain to the needs of anyone participating in production of television, but particularly those involved in shows on public access television and people who are not part of a working part of an access station or any of the various governing and advisory bodies.
The need to form CTPA became evident when it was realized in about mid-1991 that the interests of producers were not being addressed acceptably. While the present laws relating to PAP, Public Access Programming, define the organization and reporting requirements of groups governing and providing the PAP, mechanisms for independently evaluating performance of these groups is inadequate in our opinion.
In addition we helped form the Hartford Public Access Television Producers Association, which is preparing guidelines for the board of directors of the Hartford Public Access, and the Mayor’s office of the City of Hartford of the needs of the public access system. We also participate in the meetings of the Hartford area cable advisory committee. The topics we chiefly address are numerous and a public hearing is not the forum to explore in detail.
Therefore (inaudible) forum here, can best be understood in terms of communication between the lowest levels of the system, the producers themselves and the upper level is the governing regulating agency. Briefly we need legislation that provides for free democratic input of the needs of the users of the public access system, not legislation which further empowers the governing and privileged groups in position and which adds new obstacles to the paths of producers trying to use the system as it was intended.
Experience in the Hartford area shows that the administration of the system has been the almost exclusive monopoly to a small group of people, no matter how qualified or well intentioned these privileged players are, provision must be made for a more democratic representation in the interests of all users of the system.
The subjects which concern individual producers and which these various organizations are addressing are: one, representation. Producers are not adequately represented in the various governing bodies in the system. Two, finances. Financial data relating to the operation of access stations are not made available for use of the facilities on a regular and open basis. In many cases the funds allocated for the operation of the system end up being paid salaries for the keepers of the system at the expense of improvements, equipment, services and operation.
Three, evaluation. We need to provide legislation that provides for the regular solicitation of evaluations of the services being provided by and the performance of the various groups involved in this system. Four, equipment. Equipment used by, purchased or proposed for access stations in many cases is not suitable for the average user. Five, funding. Funding for individual producers is nil. Provisions to provide financial guidance for producers is non-existent. Six, technical quality. The quality of the signal sent to subscribers from cable access stations is frequently substandard and reporting of the valuation of this aspect is inadequate. That concludes the six points. As we enter the new era of public access television, these issues must be addressed so that the system realizes the benefits intended by the original legislation.
The cable system is a regulated monopoly. The regulation needed by legislation is at the top of the system, not the bottom, and that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely still applies. We at Hartford Late Night and the various organizations are working to make the system better for everyone. We thank you for the opportunity to convey our concerns to you. We’d be pleased to work with you and other members of this community to continue to improve the system. Thank you very much. I welcome any comments and I’m glad to be through.
SEN. PETERS: Have a little faith. On number four about equipment, and I have by the way heard from producers in my neck of the woods about some of the concerns they have as well. You mentioned the equipment not being suitable for the average user. Can you expand on that a little?
FRANK BUTASH: Sure, everybody has a VHS camera. You can buy them for 600 bucks. You go into the studios and you’ve got 3/4 equipment. There’s very little easy to use half inch equipment. There are no SVHS terms. I’m speaking from my little foxhole up in Hartford. The studio cameras are 15, 20 years old. The whole facility is substandard. We produce better shows when the equipment fails. We have to use individual equipment to produce our shows. It’s better equipment using consumer product council, and the reason for this is there is no fee factor.
I want to explain something you’re already aware of. The money starts at the top and trickles down. You have people in the system who are already teachers, already politicians or whatever and the equipment and the decisions about equipment are made at that level. I don’t know of procedures where they ask the guy on the street, what kind of equipment do you want?
Now I don’t want to paint a super black picture of putting out concerns. We’re highlighting the things we’re concerned about. There are a lot of good things.
SEN. PETERS: And your show is one of them? (Laughter)
FRANK BUTASH: No comparison anywhere in the United States. We service 2000 people and I’ve got numbers to prove it. We’ll do it later on. We also work with three or four universities in the area. We do what we call rolling. We do video in the streets. It’s all done, we call the back pockets of the community.
SEN. PETERS: Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: Are the problems you’ve described particular to your cable system, or are you speaking for producers throughout the state through this organization?
FRANK BUTASH: They are heavily weighted for people in the Hartford area. I know there are some facilities that (inaudible).
REP. SCALETTAR: And have you spoken to the cable advisors council in Hartford?
FRANK BUTASH: There were some other problems, but this is a local issue. The equipment we deal with comes out of the access station in Hartford. There’s nothing they can do about it.
REP. SCALETTAR: Well I’m just curious. Have you spoken to the community advisory council in Hartford or the cable system that you’re working with?
FRANK BUTASH: They’re aware of it indirectly, but it’s not really an issue of their concern.
REP. SCALETTAR: Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Any other questions or comments? Thank you very much.
FRANK BUTASH: Thank you. I’d be happy to work with you.
SEN. PETERS: Thank you. Ed Gittleman.
ED GITTLEMAN: Thank you, Senator Peters. Good evening. It is after the adjournment hour, so I’ll be very brief. Firstly, I hope Frank was talking about the Hartford access station and not the rest of the franchise. I’m chairman of the Hartford area cable advisory council and I’m also president of the Bloomfield access television.
As far as cameras and equipment is concerned, those are strictly the providence of the individual access stations. They’re all independent, tax exempt organizations and they take the money provided by the cable company and the money they get for the salaries any way possible and purchase their own equipment and anyone who is interested in producing shows or doing anything within the station has a perfect right to come in and make suggestions as far as what type of equipment they should buy.
As far as advisory councils, to me the purpose of an advisory council is to just as it says advise, work with, accompany. The big problem I heard tonight is membership and attendance. Inasmuch as the DPUC mandates that the chief executive officers of these committees appoint these people I think the DPUC in its wisdom should also make some sort of arrangement for getting rid of people who do not attend meetings. We have members in our advisory council who do not show up for three or four meetings in a row. We write letters to them. It means nothing because there’s no way we can get rid of them.
The gentlemen who drops members on his own I think is looking for trouble because inasmuch as those individuals are appointed by the mayor or the first selectman of his town, I don’t see that he has the right to drop them without conferring with this individual, so maybe the DPUC can come up with some way of getting rid of people who do not attend. I wouldn’t want to be on an organization or on a committee that I wasn’t participating in and working for. As far as public access is concerned, basically public access depends upon the people within the community, and there I think the cable companies can help us a lot by providing information and for listening to the members of the community on those channels over which they have some control by putting on information about volunteering service to a public access station and I know it provides funds for us.
We have information on our public access channel, but people watch other things as well, and I think that if there was information on these other channels, it might be worth some good. Thank you.
SEN. PETERS: Just a moment, please, Ed. First of all, it’s my opinion that DPUC does not have the staff nor the resources to micro-manage local advisory boards.
ED GITTLEMAN: No, but they set the guidelines for membership. They should also at the same time set the guidelines for eliminating those people…
SEN. PETERS: I personally think and I’m going out on a limb on this without discussing this with the Department, I personally think that, I think that that’s too much of an invasion on what should be done locally.
ED GITTLEMAN: In other words we should contact the chief selectman or the mayor…
SEN. PETERS: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s my personal opinion, because each task that we give the Department, someone’s got to pay for this.
ED GITTLEMAN: Just put it into the rules.
SEN. PETERS: Someone’s gotta monitor it. Someone’s gotta monitor it. That’s my personal opinion that a lot of your concerns can really be dealt with locally. I think that I’ve heard some people say they’ve written into their by-laws. They’ve done this and they’ve done that, and before the really state intervention should be the last thing that should occur. Legislation should be the last thing that should occur, and we should try to work things out with respect to the various levels of government, but as I said, I’m willing to look at this. Representative Scalettar.
REP. SCALETTAR: I just wanted to suggest that there’s something in between DPUC regulation and having the councils contact the first selectman and mayors and that is the by-law procedure.
ED GITTLEMAN: It’s not a by-law procedure.
REP. SCALETTAR: Well, if you’re concerned however that you actually don’t have authority to do it, which is what you’re suggesting, perhaps that’s something that should be clarified that the boards do have the authority to establish reasonable rules and regulations.
ED GITTLEMAN: That might help because as I say I wouldn’t want to throw someone off that had been appointed by the mayor.
REP. SCALETTAR: Well you might have a question about whether you have the authority to do that, and that’s a question that someone should be able to answer.
SEN. PETERS: Any other questions or comments?
REP. ROY: (Inaudible – mic off) cable council chairman mentioned that about four or five years ago they attempted to keep the council chairman from giving advisory board (inaudible) common problem. (inaudible) Do you think that might be a solution?
ED GITTLEMAN: We had a state organization for a while, and we met in various areas of the state and what would happen was when we met down in New Haven area. There were all people from New Haven and just a couple from the Hartford area. When we met up in Hartford, there were all the people from Hartford and one or two. We never could get enough people from all over the state to make such an organization viable. It’s going to be difficult because first of all if you hold it in a certain area, no one will travel an hour and a half or two hours to go to a meeting.
REP. ROY: Put it in Meriden. The Senator’s from Meriden.
ED GITTLEMAN: We had it Meriden. We got everybody from the Meriden area and a few from Hartford. Nobody from Fairfield and nobody from down at the shore, so it’s a little bit too big an area to cover. If there was a way to do this areawide, it might work.
We’ll wait a couple of weeks now. We’ve gotcompetition in our franchises it should be a lot of fun.
SEN. PETERS: Any other comments or questions? Thank you very much, and Joanne Martin. Hi.
JOANNE MARTIN: Hi. I’m Joanne Martin, and I’m also a member of the cable advisory council in the Storer cable, which is New Haven, West Haven. I just had a brief comment about how effective cable advisory councils can be. I’m the chair of the customer service committee and we get about 20 letters a year. Since the new rate regulations went in I’m getting 20 or more letters a month, so we addressed that problem and reorganized (inaudible – mic off) and a call in phone number, and we had
about 10 people sign out home run cameras and we had (inaudible) and we had 40 phone calls come in. We thought it was a good investment. We had problems there. We also had some (inaudible) copyright decisions, and as a result of that we are looking at the (inaudible) and trying to address the complaints the customers are having now. (Inaudible) and the advisory council this is what we can do. (Inaudible)
SEN. PETERS: I think that’s a good idea. So youessentially have kind of your own special programming when you need to have it.
JOANNE MARTIN: Well, this was just one show that we did. We’d like to do more, because when you.
SEN. PETERS: That’s not a bad idea.
JOANNE MARTIN: (Inaudible) and then we invite thepeople to write us again problems and solve them. I think we’re getting better.
SEN. PETERS: That sounds like a really great program, something that maybe other advisory councils can use. Any questions or comments? Thank you very much for waiting so long, and we thank you for sitting here through this and sharing your experiences and your knowledge with us and see you again at another public hearing. Thank you.