In recent weeks, public and government-access TV channels formerly broadcast via Charter Communication’s Spectrum have gone dark for the City of Owensboro and its surrounding area.
Residents will no longer have access to Public Education and Government Access (PEG) cable channels such as channels 71, 72, 73, 74 and 75, all of which formerly aired educational information, public access television and city and county government meetings.
City Manager Nate Pagan said Time Warner Cable, the previous Owensboro cable provider prior to it’s merger with Charter, had a franchise agreement with the City of Owensboro. This agreement said that because much of Time Warner’s infrastructure was on city property, they would provide cable access channels to city and county government at no cost. According to Pagan, a change in Kentucky state law said service could not be included in franchise agreements so Charter included these channels as a donation in lieu of franchise taxes.
Pagan said that without the donation, it will cost the City $9,000 per year to get those channels up and running again. Additionally, due to Spectrum’s recent switch from analog to digital cable services, which requires cable customers to purchase a digital converter box for an additional monthly fee, Pagan says the City is getting an estimate on costs related to upgrading its equipment.
As far as providing local access for important matters, such as city and county commission meetings, Pagan says the City is working to find the best method in making those events accessible for viewers.
“We are making sure to look at all options so our meetings are transparent and available to be viewed by the public,” Pagan said.
For now, Pagan says the city commission plans on streaming meetings and city programming via Facebook live and the City website.
In a statement from Charter Communications, the company says they have fulfilled their franchise agreement with the City of Owensboro:
“We continue to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of our franchise obligations and the transfer agreement — both of which were mutually agreed to by the City of Owensboro and Spectrum. With the recent city-wide launch of Spectrum Internet Gig, Spectrum Mobile, and the completion of our all-digital network, it is clear Spectrum is fully committed to Owensboro and its residents by providing world-class communication services.”
Charter Communications also states they did not cancel the PEG channel; however, in order for Spectrum to broadcast that channel, there is a cost for the company to transport video through a fiber circuit to send data to their hub.
Charter also stated that local schools and governments were given two to three years notice of the impending changes, and that no one was blindsided. According to the statement, Charter Communications provides one basic cable account — free of charge — to all K-12 schools, regardless of franchise agreements.
Director of Marketing and Communications at Owensboro Community & Technical College, Bernie Hale, said the loss of public-access and educational channels meant cutting OCTC’s channel — OCTV. Hale said it was an unfortunate loss for both the community and for students.
“It was a nice benefit we were able to provide for the community and our students,” Hale said. “That channel broadcasted for Rooster Booster, GRAAD and other community events.”
Not only have local schools lost their public-access channels, they’ve also withdrawn from using Spectrum’s cable services altogether.
Hale also said OCTC has cut ties with Spectrum’s cable services since the company’s September switch to digital. OCTC previously provided cable for their classrooms across all campuses, but the requirement of paying an extra monthly fee for the requirement of a digital converter box for each television led to OCTC’s decision to end cable services with Spectrum.
“We can’t justify spending that kind of money. We just can’t afford that when we could spend that money on new technology,” Hale said, adding that OCTC has begun releasing informational videos on their YouTube channel instead.
Owensboro Public Schools Public Information Officer Jared Revlett said the loss of PEG channels was unfortunate for OPS, but said they had already been using social media platforms to heighten awareness of the school district’s events, and they will continue doing so.
“It’s unfortunate that some of our students who don’t have access to cable won’t have it at school,” Revlett said of losing both cable and PEG channels. “They’re still able to access that information through our social media outlets.”
Revlett said the costs of keeping cable and going digital would’ve forced OPS to pay an extra $8 per month for each TV in their school district.
“We can’t afford that,” Revlett said.
Daviess County Public Schools have also abstained from using Spectrum’s cable services this year and have instead focused on using various social media platforms to get their news and information to parents, students and the community.
DCPS Public Information Officer Lora Wimsatt said their school district has begun using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn as replacements for both cable and the public-access and educational channels they no longer have.