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Community News

Changes coming to local access cable

10/2/2008 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

AKRON — Public access programming is in its last days in Akron.

Time Warner Cable of Northeast Ohio has notified independent producers of programming that it will no longer accept tapes for broadcast after Oct. 10. After that date, local community channels will in most cases be operated by municipalities, according to Chris Thomas, director of governmental and media relations for Time Warner Northeast Ohio.

“The channel will still be there, but us providing playback service is going away,” Thomas said. “The channel remains, and some of the various cities and townships and schools are talking about taking over that service.”

In Akron, Deputy Mayor David Lieberth said officials plan to operate the city’s Channel 15, but the details have not been worked out yet.

“The hope is to have something in operation in the next 90 days,” he said.

While the details have yet to be ironed out, Lieberth did say local programming submitted by the public will no longer be broadcast.

“There is nothing called public access anymore,” Lieberth said. “We don’t intend to provide public access because we are not obligated to.”

In Akron, most of Channel 15’s weekday programming is provided by the Akron Public Schools (APS). District spokesperson Karen Ingraham said the district has not been told anything but believes that it still will be broadcasting its programming as before.

Lieberth said city officials plan to allow APS to continue using the channel, thereby allowing it to continue to broadcast its programming, such as the children’s program “Ask Gilby.”

Lieberth said the city is looking into how it will use the hours of airtime when APS programming doesn’t air. Officials are looking at other cities and considering using automated informational programming, such as slides that remind residents of important dates or provide emergency information.

The changes come as a result of state legislation that changed cable contracts from local to state. The new contracts between Time Warner and communities mean Time Warner still provides a channel for use but is getting out of the business of airing publicly submitted programs, according to Thomas.

The end of public access is disappointing to local producers such as Rose Wilcher, whose “Freedom Journal TV” airs twice a week in Akron and several times a week in other local communities.

“It will affect the local community a great deal,” said Wilcher, a West Akron resident. “We don’t have a lot of venues for local news.”

Wilcher said she first became aware of the upcoming changes when she recently dropped off tapes at the Canton Time Warner studio and was handed a letter telling her about the Oct. 10 deadline. The letter said producers should call their local community to inquire about future access.

Wilcher said she and other producers have called city hall in Akron but have not received any response.

Though she maintains a Web site for her political program, Wilcher does not believe that will be a substitute for people who watch her show.

“The bulk of the people that call me with comments about the show ... are frustrated because [the media] won’t pay them any attention and they want any avenue to get their story out,” Wilcher said. “And the Internet isn’t an option for them. The bulk of our viewers haven’t crossed that big digital divide that we talk about, and they rely on cable.”

For more information on how this change may affect your community, call your local public officials.

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