Broadcast Battle

The future of community television in Omaha

For 25 years CTI-22 has been “broadcasting the community” on Cox Channel 22 in Omaha from its studio at the OIC building on North 24th Street. 

The facility and the channel have been synonymous with two things – the Reynolds family and a mixture of programming that runs from returned State Senator Ernie Chambers and a series of activist minority programming to a community calendar and wide mix of community groups from churches and nonprofits to sports tournaments and cultural events.

Changes in the city’s cable franchise agreement with Cox television, approved by the City Council in May 2012 after numerous public hearings, have set CTI-22 against a newly appointed Community Television Advisory Corporation, set to oversee big changes in Omaha’s PEG programming – public, educational and government – best known as Cox Channels 17, 18, 22 and 109.

CTI-22 was responsible for operating Channel 22, but the two were always separate. Channel 22 was part of the Cox broadcast spectrum and CTI 22 was a non-profit corporation that produced content for the channel. The future of Channel 22 is certain - it will continue. The future of CTI-22 is not certain, and is a topic of considerable controversy.

Originally run by North Omaha minister, activist and NAACP President Dr. Everett Reynolds, the station is run today by his son Trip, relying on low fees from community groups to support its operations, without any government support or funds from cable franchisee fees. 

The new 10-year franchise agreement significantly altered the system that has been in place for 15 years. According to city attorney Tom Mumgaard, who handled the new contract negotiations, “Cox wanted to eliminate PEG programming entirely. The city council said, ‘No. We have people who are using public access. It’s going to stay.’ Council pushed to the point of triggering the process that would have kicked Cox out of town, saying to them, ‘You’ve lost your franchise. Go away,’” Mumgaard said. A compromise eliminated one of the four public access channels in exchange for $2 million paid to the City by Cox over eight years.

The one thing that will not change with the new contract is the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. “By federal law, we cannot control content,” Mumgaard said. “Other than obscenity, indecency or nudity, we don’t have anything to say about content. What’s being said there is of nobody’s business.”

Below is a breakdown of the major changes to public access programming that are part of the new contract.

Creation of Community Television Access Corporation (CTAC)

The seven-member Community Television Advisory Committee, appointed by city council to oversee public access, has been converted to a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation with nine board members whose terms run through October of 2013.

Knowledge Network moved to Channels 18 and 109

The Knowledge Network, a consortium of local educational institutions, formerly broadcast on Channels 17 and 18, will henceforth broadcast on Channels 18 and 109. Live feed for governmental programming from City Hall will share space on Channel 18 with TKN.

Cox takes Channel 17

Formerly used by The Knowledge Network’s analogue signal, which has a larger broadcast space than digital programming, Cox will take it over to broadcast on-demand programming. In exchange, Cox agreed to pay $2 million to the City -- $200,000 within the first 30 days; $300,000 in 2013 and 2014; and $200,000 annually through 2020.

Consolidation of Channels 22 and109

With the elimination of Channel 109, Channel 22 will be the sole public access channel. The physical location for broadcasting may be moved from North 24th Street in the future. However, according to John Barrett, Director of Governmental Affairs at Cox, CTI-22 will have the technical capability to continue to broadcast live programming and pre-recorded shows from its studio until the City establishes a new studio elsewhere. There is no technological requirement to shut down live broadcasts from CTI-22 on February 28, 2013.

Elimination of studio for Channel 109

In the past, Cox was responsible for operating a public access studio in their facility at 115th and Dodge to broadcast Channel 109. Cox paid for equipment, salary and benefits for an employee to help the public record and broadcast programming at a cost of approximately $11,000 per month. Because the City was not able to establish a new facility by the beginning of the new contract cycle in November, 2012, Cox agreed to continue to operate the studio at 115th and Dodge through February 28, 2013. The City agreed to compensate the cost of operations for three months and three weeks, a total of $40,300. 

Three CTAC board members -- Addie Hardrick, Charles Cogar and Bill Gaughan – joined about 75 people at a Dec. 6 meeting of an ad hoc group calling itself Citizens for Public Access. Many are currently running programs with CTI22, including moderators Cheryl Weston, Willie Hamilton and Reynaldo Cervantes. All expressed their concern about what the change would mean for CTI-22, the possible loss of minority programming and the frustration about not being informed of the changes.

“I was told they were going to make it 30 minute programs and no call-ins,” said Hamilton. “I also found out that they had put together a nine member board, seven picked by Council and two at large, and no one representing CTI was on the board. I felt disrespected and left out.” 

Researched by Kietryn Zychal and edited by John Heaston. El Perico and The Reader sponsor Sabor Omaha with Marina Rosado on CTI-22.

posted at 01:14 pm
on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

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