Friday, April 25, 2008

Comcast Expects Automatic Franchise Renewal

When Comcast of the Plainfields’ 10-year city franchise ends in 2009, the company will invoke a 5-year automatic renewal, a representative told the Cable Television Advisory Board Thursday.

Charles Smith III, director of Government and Community Affairs for Northern New Jersey, told the board, “Comcast will exercise that option. That’s the way we look at the franchise.”

Among topics the board discussed Thursday (April 24, 2008) was the process set forth by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which calls for franchisees to begin a study of cable service delivery three years before the time of franchise renewal. The board is expected to deliver a report on the cable franchise this year, but the automatic renewal clause may make the process moot.

Still, the board may hold a public hearing on the community’s level of satisfaction with Comcast services.

While the Comcast franchise is running out, Verizon has gained state approval to hold franchises in many communities, including Plainfield. Smith said that when Verizon’s ability to serve customers reaches 60 percent of the Plainfield market, franchise fees will double from 2 percent to 4 percent due to state legislation. The city currently receives as much as $120,000 in franchise fees to operate the city’s local origination channel.

But while officials wrested the commitment for two local channels from Comcast in the past franchise renewal, the implementation has been spotty. Only one channel, based in City Hall Annex, is currently operating. A studio built at Maxson Middle School has languished.

Besides the operational aspects of the local channels, programming was another topic addressed by the board. Much of the local channel’s content is public service announcements and outside programs such as Democracy Now and White House Chronicles, but Public Information Officer Jazz Johnson said consultant Parris Z. Moore has launched a pilot program called “Hello Plainfield” and has several more in the works. They include “Plainfield at Work,” about day-to-day city activity on behalf of its citizens; “Plainfield Profiles,” about interesting residents; and “Plainfield Update,” a news format program.

See for the Channel 74 schedule. The board's next meetings will be 7 p.m. on May 22 and June 26 in City Hall Library.

Board members asked Johnson when the City Council meetings would be televised. Johnson said Channel 74 was ready to record the meetings, but the council was holding off.

Johnson said her goal is to have 70 percent local programming in the future.

“It is there. It is in the works,” she said.

--Bernice Paglia


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