Source: Sherman Publications

Officials promise better public access

by Andrea Beaudoin

July 10, 2013

BY ANDREA M. BEAUDOIN

Clarkston News Staff Writer

Residents have complained about a lack of programming at Independence Television (ITV), with $200,000 a year in Public, Education and Government, or PEG, fees collected via residents' cable television bills going to waste.

But ITV Program Manager Joe Barnhart said the station has improved since he was hired in February 2012.

After 18 months of work, ITV produces about 4-5 hours of new programming each month in addition to meetings of township Board of Trustees, Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Clarkston Independence Library meetings.

According to Congressional Research Service, Michigan requires PEG channels to provide at least eight hours of nonrepeat programming content daily.

Comcast Public Relations Specialist Rob Ponto said Comcast does not dictate program requirements or how PEG funds are spent as far as programming requirements.

"Programming requirements are dictated by each municipality," he said.

ITV channel also airs old shows featuring community events along with public service announcements from a national public access network on bullying and fire safety.

“Our future goal is to replace national programming with studio programs,” Barnhardt said. “I would also like to work with more groups and individuals to help produce and edit more original shows.”

Barnhardt expressed a similar hope in a story with The Clarkston News, Jan. 16.

"We have the equipment, classes are starting – hopefully it will change, "he said at the time. "I'm anxious to get residents involved and be a creative force behind us, like Lake Orion, Waterford, Oxford. I'd like to be similar to them."

That effort was not successful, he said.

Independence Township Supervisor Pat Kittle said moving ITV to Clarkston High School would provide students to use ITV’s new equipment, and in turn ITV staff would have more helpers to produce shows.

Barnhart said more original programs requires more people – each half hour show requires two to four hours of editing time.

“That’s on top of the other programming requirements we have,” he said.

Barhart was hired as program manager for $45,000 a year salary and an additional $25,000 in benefits. When he took over, ITV had a lot of problems, he said.

“Money was just not being spent out of the PEG Fund,” he said. “The studios equipment was outdated and the building needed to be repaired. Much of the first year was working to upgrade the building and equipment.”

They bought new equipment and upgraded the studio, he said.

Rick Gutowski said problems could be solved without moving to the school – a plan was already in place to increase programming.

“Local content productions can be increased by hiring part timers to record and edit local events. There already is a plan to increase local programs,” he said.

ITV Committee Rob Namowicz said since hiring Barnhart a lot of progress has been made at the studio.

“We have an excellent and professional manager in Joe Barnhart who has years of experience,” Namowicz said. “He is the most competent and capable cable coordinator in more than 20 years.”

Oxford, which is a smaller community than Independence, broadcasts up to 16 government meetings each months.

Program Manager Ken Laplace, who runs the Oxford station, said his studio has 10 paid staff and several volunteers. In addition to Laplace, one of those employees works full-time. Together, the crew also produces a constant variety of new shows.

Comparable to Independence Township is the Media Network of Waterford. With two workers on staff, the crew produces about seven new shows for their community each week. The two man crew also tape community events for viewers. They receive about $80,000 in PEG funds every year to serve about 70,000 residents.

“We’re small, but were popular,” said Operations Manager Denise McLeod.

What is public access?

Cable television subscribers pay about 5% of their cable bills per month to fund ITV. About $200,000 a year in Public, Education and Government (PEG) fees is collected by Independence Township from Comcast and AT & T U-verse customers to pay for the channel. Residents can use the facility to create television shows.