Atlanta Defunded People TV over Years, Diverted Fee Revenue
(APN) ATLANTA – In the 1990’s, the City of Atlanta expressed its policy of setting aside a substantial portion of cable franchise fee revenue paid by cable subscribers to be used for public access television, People TV Channel 24, Atlanta Progressive News can reveal based on our research of historical records, including documents obtained from the Atlanta History Center.
The revelation is significant because the City of Atlanta has defunded People TV over the subsequent decades, a process that accelerated under the administration of then-Mayor Shirley Franklin – and this defunding was a deviation from the prior intentions of not only the Mayor but the City Council at the time.
As recently reported by APN, the Council just approved a one year contract for People TV that will fund the station in the amount of 180,000 dollars – an amount that the City knows is pitifully inadequate.
Despite increasing numbers of cable subscribers cutting the cord with Comcast and canceling their cable service in favor of less expensive Internet media viewing, the City of Atlanta’s revenue from cable franchise fees increased from $1,156,969.27 in 1993 to 5,233,382 dollars in 2019, an increase of some 352 percent.
However, despite this windfall for City coffers at the expense of Atlanta cable subscribers, the funding for People TV, Inc., Atlanta’s public access TV operator, increased from $173,545.39 in 1993 to 180,000 dollars in 2022, an increase of only 3.72 percent.
CITY POLICY: PUBLIC ACCESS TO RECEIVE FIFTEEN PERCENT
In 1993, Atlanta City Council passed Ordinance 93-O-1790, authorizing twenty-five percent of cable franchise fees received from the cable operators to be placed in a designated account within the Department of Contingent and Grants to be called CATV Programming Fund.
“Sixty percent (60%) of said funds shall be used to fund the operations of People TV, Inc., the independent non-profit responsible for public access in Atlanta, pursuant to an agreement setting out the terms and conditions of such funding,” the ordinance states.
“The remaining forty percent (40%) of the CATV Programming Fund shall be placed in a separate set of accounts and used to fund the City of Atlanta operated, government access channels as determined by the Office of Marketing & Communications,” the ordinance states.
To make it clear that sixty percent of the 25 percent shall be set aside for People TV, the ordinance did the multiplication: “…the City wishes to appropriate 15% of these [cable] franchise fees to People TV, Inc., to support public access operations.”
In 1993, the City of Atlanta received $1,156,969.27 in cable franchise fees. That year, Atlanta City Council authorized that very fifteen percent, or $173,545.39, to be appropriated to People TV, Inc. for public access operations.
WHAT ARE CABLE FRANCHISE FEES?
Cable franchise fees are fees charged by a local government to private cable companies as compensation for using the public right of way.
In Georgia, municipalities are entitled to cable franchise fees up to a maximum of five percent of gross revenues derived from the operation of the cable system.
Cable franchise fees apply only to revenue from cable services; not telephone, Internet, nor other services provided by cable operators.
The term “cable franchise fee” might be misleading: cable franchise fees are ultimately paid by cable subscribers, not cable companies.
For example, if your monthly cable bill is one hundred dollars, you will be billed an additional five dollars as a cable franchise fee.
2020 AUDIT OF COMCAST FRANCHISE FEES
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, in 2020, Atlanta’s Audit Department audited Comcast cable franchise fee payments for the three-calendar year period, 2017-2019.
Total revenue received during the three-year period was 16,524,392 dollars.
Based on City of Atlanta Ordinance 93-O-1790, funding for People TV, Inc., if calculated at fifteen percent of 16,524,392 dollars–the total cable franchise payments received during the three-year period–would have totaled 2,478,658 dollars.
Instead, per Atlanta’s online “Open Checkbook”, the City of Atlanta appropriated only 863,125 dollars to People TV, Inc. for fiscal years 2018 to 2022.
In January 1995, the City of Atlanta entered into a cable franchise agreement with GCTV Sub 2 Corporation (a subsidiary of Southern Multimedia Corporation)–a cable company that provided cable in Atlanta prior to Comcast–and negotiated a new contract with People TV, Inc.
City of Atlanta Resolution 95-R-1346 authorized the mayor to enter an agreement with People TV, Inc., for five years, with an option to renew up to two additional five-year terms.
That agreement authorized the cable operator to provide People TV with funding for operations, equipment, and facilities as follows:
- 500,000 dollars annually, increased quarterly for inflation;
- 900,000 dollars for initial equipment and facilities renovation;
- 650,000 dollars for replacement equipment in 1998.
The nearly one million dollar capitalization of Atlanta’s public access TV station in 1995 was the last significant investment in the studios, equipment, or software necessary to operate a community television channel and media training facility.
In 2019, the City of Atlanta negotiated a seven year cable franchise agreement with Comcast, City of Atlanta Ordinance 19-O-1598.
As reported by APN at the time, in addition to five percent cable franchise fees, Atlanta cable subscribers would now be billed monthly for the PEG Capital Grant, intended for public, educational, and government (PEG) access TV capitalization.
As of this writing, there is no public reporting on total PEG Capital Grant revenue remitted to the City of Atlanta, nor of PEG capital projects funded with grant monies.
In April 2022, Comcast remitted cable franchise fees for the first quarter of the year, totaling $1,245,594.82 to the City of Atlanta. This exceeds the total franchise fee revenue received for the entire year in 1993.
If the City of Atlanta appropriated funding for public access TV operations today as in 1993 based on Ordinance 93-O-1790, People TV, Inc. would receive a quarterly payment of approximately 187,000 dollars, instead of the annual payment of 180,000 dollars.
In short, the City is underfunding People TV per its own policy, by approximately 75 percent.
People TV is woefully underfunded also in comparison to other jurisdictions.
Washington, DC funds DCTV with 1,849,574 dollars annually in operating support; Cambridge, Massachusetts funds CCTV in the amount of 916,174 dollars annually; and Charlotte/Mecklenburg, North Carolina funds TV Access in the amount of 523,661 dollars annually.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)