Fredonia Cable Board asks for digital jump funds

Changes may soon be seen in a contract extension between the village of Fredonia and Time Warner Cable for Fredonia’s public access channel, including a cost hike from $55,000 to an estimated $210,000 to cover a switch from an analog signal to a digital one.

Members of the village’s cable advisory board attended Tuesday’s village board workshop to present its recommendations for the new contract. While cable board members argued the jump to digital is in the best interests of Fredonia, village board members were wary of the steep cost.

“The current cable franchise agreement with Time Warner was signed more than 10 years ago and has expired,” Cable Board Chair Marcia Merrins said. “We have received many compliments on the quality of our programs (and) we have continually made available airtime and equipment for productions of local interest. Present funding for local access is a $4,500 budget line from the village, which barely covers the phone bill.”

The cable board recommended a need to plan for an upgrade to high-definition, which requires capital equipment needs over the life of any renewed contract, as well as studio space for productions.

“Equipment is outdated, and if not replaced, will limit the extent of even current programming,” Merrins concluded.

“We’re looking at around $60,000 for an automation system, which would allow us to do digital formatting; automation meaning our programming could run 24/7 on multiple planes, and allow us to go high-def,” Public Access Channel Coordinator Chip Riewaldt said. “For the studio, the cost is $160,233, and that includes multiple cameras and high-def equipment; all our equipment right now is standard-def. We want to go into modern technology. We have no studio equipment at all (right now) … and the equipment we have is 10 years old.”

Riewaldt added a switch to digital will allow the public access channel to get into higher-quality programming, thus getting more people to watch cable and bring in more revenue.

Village Attorney Samuel Drayo said if the village were to go with a $210,000, 10-year contract with Time Warner Cable, the chargeback to cable customers would be an estimated 80 cents per month. A 15-year contract would have a payback of 53 cents per month.

“Time Warner is paid back that money from subscribers,” Drayo added. “It isn’t out of the village budget, but it is charged to the subscribers.”

Trustee Janel Subjack took issue with the rate increase and said Time Warner Cable is “pretty heavy-handed with increases” and could add additional increases throughout the duration of the contract.

“I had one person tell me that if they get one more penny on their Time Warner bill, they’re out,” she said. “I’m afraid of driving subscribers from Time Warner elsewhere (such as satellite) because they don’t want to pay the extra money. People have some real issues with the cost of Time Warner.”

“What we’re talking about is less than a dollar,” Merrins replied.

“But for some people, that’s a lot of money,” Subjack said, adding she will have a hard time justifying a $210,000 contract. “People need to know that that’s a stagnant figure.”

Drayo said the village board needs to review the entire proposed contract within the next month and come to a consensus on it.

“We have a great opportunity to produce something locally for the community,” Riewaldt said. “We don’t see local news (on television) anymore. We have an opportunity here to produce a better-quality product to bring to the customers of cable TV. I can’t tell you how many people have flat-screen TVs these days.”

“We understand that (the village may lose its public access programming if it doesn’t switch to digital), but I think it’s the quadrupling of the contract in a short amount of time (that is the problem),” Trustee Joseph Cerrie said.

A public hearing on the agreed-upon contract will be held once the village board and Time Warner Cable agree on a contract.

Drayo said the village has 2,150 cable subscribers on average.

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