Atlanta Proposes Millions for Comcast, Pennies for Public Access (UPDATE 1)
Comcast logo used as image in this article pursuant to fair use doctrine.
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta is currently considering approval of a seven year Franchise Agreement with Comcast Cable Communications, after operating for several months without a contract, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.
However, the proposed contract, which stands to enable Comcast to make hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, only offers literal pennies for public access.
Under the proposed agreement, the City would only receive ten cents per subscriber per month for the first two years of the agreement, and five cents per subscriber for the subsequent five years.
And yet, Comcast makes at least sixty dollars per month per subscriber for packages that include more than ten channels.
That’s at least 720 dollars per year which Comcast stands to make per customer, with only $1.20 going to support public access television in the first two years; sixty cents per year after that.
“The Company shall pay to the Franchising Authority payment in the amount of ten cents ($0.10) per Subscriber per month during the first two (2) years that this Agreement is in effect, and five cents ($0.05) per Subscriber per month for the remaining term of this Agreement (“PEG Capital Grant”),” the proposed agreement states on page eleven.
“The PEG Capital Grant shall be used exclusively by the Franchising Authority for capital costs associated with the PEG Channel positions described in Section 9.1,” the agreement states. The “Franchising Authority” in this case is the City of Atlanta.
These PEG funds would go to the City of Atlanta, and would then be used to support both Channel 26, the City of Atlanta government channel that plays City Council meetings; and Channel 24, People TV.
Six weeks ago, Atlanta Progressive News recently started a news talk show, called “Atlanta Progressive Views” on People TV that airs every Wednesday night from 6 to 7 p.m.
The City has discretion over how much to give to each station.
The proposed franchise agreement was introduced as a walk-in paper, Ordinance 19-O-1548, at the last meeting of the City Utilities Committee on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, where it was read in, as a first read paper.
The ordinance would renew the Franchise Agreement between the City of Atlanta and Comcast, which expired on May 29, 2019, according to the ordinance.
The term of the agreement is from October 21, 2019, to October 20, 2026.
People TV Atlanta, Inc., is an independent, non-profit organization that has been operating the People TV station since the 1980’s.
As previously reported by APN, the City of Atlanta tried for years under the Kasim Reed administration to undermine and sabotage People TV Atlanta, including withholding funding for the station and failing to appoint Board Members to the People TV Atlanta Board, such that the organization could not hold board meetings due to a lack of a quorum.
Toward the end of the Reed Administration, the City put out to bid the contract to run People TV/Channel 24. The City received three bids, including from People TV Atlanta, Inc.; one from a group including Rick Clear; and one from a sole proprietor named D. Jones.
The City awarded the contract to D. Jones, but never paid any money to her to begin the contract, after the City appears to have realized that Jones did not have the capacity to run the station.
Thus, People TV Atlanta has been operating Channel 24 without a contract for some time, and the City has been funding People TV Atlanta at a minimal, pitiful level in recent years without receiving P.E.G. funding support from Comcast.
People TV’s equipment is still from the 1980’s and cannot access the Internet, making it difficult to incorporate graphics and b-roll into the station’s programming.
The last known contribution Comcast made to the City for P.E.G. programming was in 2009 for five hundred thousand dollars.
Advocate and producer Adrian Coleman told APN that the proposed agreement contains other flaws as well, including the lack of an audit of whether franchise fees or P.E.G. fees collected by Comcast have been paid to the City, or whether some have been improperly kept by Comcast.
Franchise fees are a separate line item on Comcast customers’ bills from any P.E.G. fees, which Comcast can pass along to consumers. The City receives millions of dollars per year in franchise fees from Comcast. These funds go into the City’s General Fund.
Coleman also believes that the contract should include provisions for a consumer advocate position, to whom City of Atlanta residents and businesses could complain regarding customer service issues.
John Sharaf, an advocate and photographer who has followed the issues with public access in Atlanta for years, believes that Comcast has collected P.E.G. fees from consumers for several years since 2009, beyond the five hundred thousand dollars it gave to the City in 2009; and kept the money for themselves.
APN has made a request under the Georgia Open Records Act to the City’s Finance Department regarding how the City has spent its PEG funds dating back to 2009, and how much the City has received in franchise fees from Comcast since 2009.
APN reached out to Lisa Scalzo, Comcast Vice President, Corporate Communications – Consumer Services, by email, with questions about Comcast’s collection and use of P.E.G. funds, as well as how many subscribers are in Atlanta.
APN reached out to Wayne Martin, a former Chief of Staff to Councilman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large), who is now an external and governmental affairs representative for Comcast and was present at last week’s City Utilities Committee. Martin responded and referred media inquiries to Scalzo.
Scalzo forwarded APN’s questions to another spokesperson, who forwarded them on to a third spokesperson, who has not responded to date.
The proposed Franchise Agreement will come up for consideration at the upcoming meeting of the City Utilities Committee, on Tuesday, October 29, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. in Committee Room 1 at Atlanta City Hall.
UPDATE 1: This article has been updated to reflect an initial response from Comcast.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)