The county's contract with Comcast cable for the government channel is up for renewal and renegotiation and the county wants the public's input about Channel 23.
The public meeting for comment on Rockdale Channel 23 will be Tues., May 20, 10 a.m. in the Assembly Hall, 901 Main St. in Conyers, before the Board of Commissioners work session. There will also be information presented on Channel 23, according to Community Affairs Director Tonya Parker.
The renegotiation provides an opportunity for the county to look at what options are available regarding public access channels called PEG (Public, Education, Government) channels and Rockdale's Channel 23, which at times has come under fire from the public for questions of coverage and content.
Rockdale County's contract
The county's latest franchise agreement with MediaOne (which later merged with Comcast) was signed in June 2002 and runs until June 21, 2014. In that agreement, the county received a grant of $50,000-$100,000 at the start of the contract for capital expenditures setting up the channel, plus another $50,000 infusion after five years.
Julie Mills, who was then County Chief of Staff, said at that time the county's equipment and infrastructure for operating a cable channel was in need of updating. Rockdale's Channel 23 had started in the early 90s, but even before that, the county would reportedly bring edited interviews and tapings to Comcast to air.
The cable company also pays the county a separate franchise fee in return for access to the county's right-of-ways. That fee amounted to about $50,000 per month, or about $625,000 in 2013, which can be used for the county's operations. The cable company collects a fee, about $0.25, from its customers to fund this franchise fee and capital funds.
The franchise agreement spells out specific proportions of programming the county has to maintain in order to keep the channel, such as the amount of original programming, repeat programming, and air times.
In 2012, the county Community Affairs department's budget, which comes from the general fund, was about $237,000. The lion's share of that went to running Channel 23, said Parker. Personnel salaries and benefits for the department, which had two full time positions in 2012, made up about $180,000 of that. The department added one position in 2013. Prior to 2010, the department had four full time staff members.
PEG channel options
Cable companies can choose to offer counties and cities PEG (Public, Educational, Government) Channel as a way to attract customers in the competitive cable TV market, explained Lou Comer, Georgia Municipal Association's Director of Local Government Services. The county, which is working with Comer, has hired GMA to assist with the renegotiation of the contract and other telecommunication issues.
Municipalities can have PEG channels on more than one cable operator, said Comer, such as in Columbus, Ga. or Gwinnett County. This would mean separate agreements with each cable company.
Education channels, which are often operated by a public school system or a college/university, are also negotiated through the county or city which then works with the local education entity. Franchisers, such as Rockdale County, are often allotted multiple channels and can activate an additional channel if there is enough content to fill the channel according to the stipulated agreement. If the additional channels are not used, cable companies often fill them with infomercials or other content, said Comer.
The issue of taping and airing school board meetings has recently been brought up by the public at commissioners meetings.
Commission Chairman Richard Oden previously said a letter had been sent inviting the school system regarding the use of Channel 23.
Community Affairs Director Tonya Parker wrote that as of Friday, "I have not had any conversations or received any requests from (RCPS) to start airing the meetings on Ch. 23. I'd be happy to have a conversation with them about possibilities around this though."
The school system began taping school board work sessions and meetings last fall, using students and staff from Rockdale Career Academy's Broadcast Video program. Those videos are posted at http://portal.rockdale.k12.ga.us/about/Pages/default.aspx under "Board of Education" (see Board Meeting Recordings and Board Work Session Recordings).
(Editor's note: Calls to RCPS were not returned by press time Friday, but on Monday Superintendent Richard Autry said the school system had not heard from the county recently about the taped school board meetings and had not received any requests he knew of from the county. Autry said the taped meetings are posted online and there were no objections from the school system if the county wanted to air them.)
Residents unable to attend the Rockdale Channel 23 hearing on May 20 can provide written comments via email to County Clerk Jennifer Rutledge at firstname.lastname@example.org, by mail to P.O. Box 289, Conyers, 30012, or by dropping it off at the BOC Office at 962 Milstead Ave., Conyers. The deadline to submit written comment is 5 p.m. on Fri., May 30. For more information, call 770-278-7050.