This week we found that many local community groups and village officials are discussing the newly enacted decision by Cablevision to withhold two local channels from the airwaves for those subscribers who only pay for their basic package. The two channels are 20 and 22 — a public access channel and a government channel. We find this —Â at the very least —Â disturbing. Cablevision is saying that basic subscribers can get the channels, but for a price. Though the company is willing to provide one free box to each home, residents with more than one television would have to purchase all others — as would schools and hospitals which have multiple sets in multiple rooms.
Are we missing something here? Public access means exactly that. In the case of a public access channel, the public should have the right to view it without the added expense of having to purchase a converter box to gain access to the channel. The other channel at issue is a government channel, one where those in the community can watch the goings-on at the local level through the broadcast of town board meetings and other programming.
Television programming is going digital in 2009, and we could better sympathize with Cablevision’s position if it were unable to provide channels 20 and 22 to basic subscribers because of technical reasons. But their reasoning isn’t technical. It’s financial. By eliminating those two channels, it frees up more bandwidth and allows Cablevision to carry other, more lucrative, offerings. But it is our position that Cablevision should provide access for all Cablevision subscribers — no matter what level package a subscriber pays for.
We like the idea that there are airwaves that belong to the “public” regardless of how much money you have and what you can afford. To restrict those who can’t afford digital television or worse, the elderly, who often cannot figure out how these digital converter boxes work, seems to us, discriminatory.
Nancy Graboski said, in addition, one of the things that is beneficial about the public access channel is that it helps those who may not be able to get to public meetings, feel that they are able to participate.
At it’s basic level, we feel that television has done well in its education and informative role, and when these two channels are taken away —Â what is left for those with basic packages remains some of the less educational and informational programming — infomercials and home shopping is what immediately comes to mind.
What we learned this week from a Cablevision representative is that only 10 percent of the viewing audience will be affected by this change. Is that all? Just 10 percent? Given the fact that 20 and 22 are the channels that residents are expected to tune to in times of emergencies — hurricanes, blizzards or even manmade disasters, do you think that 10 percent is acceptable? We feel that no one should be excluded and feel pressured into spending more money for this upgrade.
Many rely on public access to understand the immediate world around them, so Cablevision please give us back our channels. Otherwise, we may just have to make sure all those residents who don’t know how to program their TVs or those converter boxes have your phone number close at hand on the day the broadcast world goes digital.