Make it more beneficial to the community and less annoying for customers.
A pair of residents offered those suggestions Wednesday during a public hearing on cable services in the City of Niagara Falls.
Just two people spoke during the sparsely attended hearing which was scheduled by members of the city’s Cable Commission who are currently negotiating a new franchise agreement with local cable provider Time Warner. Television producer and Buffalo resident Kevin Greene told commission members he believes relations with local subscribers have improved since Time Warner concluded its takeover of area cable services following the collapse of Adelphia Communications.
Greene, whose television production company, KG Media, frequently airs programming on Time Warner public access channels, said now is the time for the city and its residents to make better use of everything the cable company has to offer. He suggested the cable commission do more to raise awareness about community access to public access programming, saying city residents, departments and even businesses could benefit from placing shows and advertisements on the cable company’s stations.
“This is an advantage for our businesses if we could get organized,” he said.
Greene encouraged the commission to establish a series of seminars to better educate cable subscribers in the Falls. He also said production of public access programming offers city students an opportunity to get firsthand experience in writing, editing, film and other skills they could develop into media careers.
“For every one person in front of the camera, there’s 10 or 15 people behind the camera,” he said.
Local radio talk show host and former Niagara Falls tourism official Tom Darro complained about Time Warner’s handling of commercials. Darro said the company has an annoying habit of splicing locally paid advertisements into time slots already devoted to commercials financed by national sponsors. As a result, he said, very often viewers are forced to watch a jumbled mix of both. He suggested the cable giant could do a better job of managing its commercial time. He added that he has called the company several times to complain, only to be ignored.
“They listen to me like they have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about,” he said. “It’s just sloppy.”
Cable commission members held Wednesday’s hearing to solicit input from the public as they proceed with talks with Time Warner. The city does have a franchise agreement, although it is not considered fully in force. Commission Chairman Richard Meranto, who serves as education director for the Niagara Falls School District’s student-run Our Schools Channel, said the most recent agreement was put into writing in 2002, but never sent to the state Public Service Commission for final approval. Commission members and Time Warner officials are now attempting to rectify the situation by coming to terms on a new deal.
The franchise agreement is not focused on rates charged by the company to subscribers but does include provisions for payments and other incentives offered to the city in exchange for local cable rights. Meranto said the city currently receives 5 percent of the company’s gross cable revenue, an amount that has averaged out to about $500,000 annually in recent years. Time Warner has not missed any payments since taking over for Adelphia, according to Meranto.
The fee is not expected to be adjusted under the new deal with Time Warner. Meranto said the rate is regulated by the Federal Communication Commission and the city has already reached the agency’s cap.
Meranto said several other adjustments have been proposed for inclusion in the new agreement, including a recommendation from the city’s fire chief to have Internet services installed by Time Warner in the city’s five firehalls.
“We would like to work out a way to bring the fire department into the 21st Century,” he said.
Meranto said the commission also would like more opportunities to use cable television as a method for marketing and promotion of Niagara Falls.
“Niagara Falls has a name and I think we want to invite Time Warner to be a part of that,” Meranto said.
There is no deadline for finalizing a new agreement. Meranto said talks will continue and the commission intends to hold at least one more public hearing in the coming months.
“We’re trying to gain information on what the public is looking for,” Meranto said.