Support for CAN TV mounts as City Council Vote Nears

Posted by Mitchell - June 14, 2004 (entry 196)

June 14, 2004

Contact: Allan Gomez
Support for CAN TV Mounts as City Council Vote Nears

Ordinance would ensure stable funding for Chicago Access Network Television

Mayor Daley has received letters from hundreds of local citizens and civic, educational and community organizations as well as thousands of signatures on petitions supporting an ordinance proposing that one-fifth of the City's cable franchise fee be designated to fund operations at Chicago Access Network Television (CAN TV). Almost 80 percent of public access centers across the country are funded in this reliable way.

The City of Chicago Committee on Finance will hold a hearing on the ordinance at its June 18th meeting. If approved, the ordinance will go to the full City Council for a vote on Wednesday, June 23. Fiftieth Ward Alderman Bernard Stone -- the only remaining member of the original cable committee formed in 1980 -- introduced the ordinance on May 5. "Chicago Access represents -- and has always represented -- the peoples' network," stated Stone. "It is the one place the people of Chicago can go and have a voice, which is exactly what we intended back in 1980 when we were working on the original ordinance." While the ordinance has strong aldermanic support across the City, Mayor Daley is likely to oppose it.

CAN TV's future is currently threatened by the funding structure set up in the late 1990s which incorrectly assumed continued competition among cable providers. CAN TV is currently funded under agreements with the three franchised Chicago cable providers: Comcast, RCN and WideOpenWest. Each pays a flat fee of $215,000 per service area. RCN has defaulted twice on significant payments due CAN TV, most recently in January of 2004. RCN filed for bankruptcy protection on May 27 and has made it clear it can't fulfill its obligations in three out of four of its cable areas. That puts CAN TV at risk of losing close to $1 million per year, equivalent to about 40 percent of its cable funding.

What is needed in such a volatile cable market, according to Stone, is not just a quick fix, but a long-term solution that will safeguard this valuable community resource for the benefit of all Chicago's residents. "This ordinance provides for one-fifth of the franchise fee to go to Chicago Access, and that means that in the future, Chicago Access won't have to worry about its budget. They've been very frugal and proven in the past that they know how to handle a budget. To give you an idea of the amount of money we're talking about, a commercial run on network television for the Super Bowl produces ad revenues somewhere in the vicinity of a little more than $2 million. That is what one-fifth of the franchise fee would produce annually for Access."

Since its founding in 1983, CAN TV has become a lifeline for thousands of Chicago residents and nonprofits. Its five local, noncommercial, cable channels 19, 21, 27, 36, and 42, help viewers find jobs, locate HIV/AIDS and domestic violence counseling, access, art and educational resources, volunteer for nonprofits, interact with local public officials, and experience a diversity of viewpoints. CAN TV is an award-winning, highly successful, independent nonprofit which is recognized nationally as one of the finest access centers in the country.

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