The television show “Disability Viewpoints.” which provides information by and for Minnesotans with disabilities, could be affected by North Suburban Communication Commission’s renewal of a franchise agreement with Comcast. “Disability Viewpoints” and many other locally produced community interest, youth activity and sports programs could lose their longtime home if changes are made at CTV. Proponents fear that franchise agreement changes and funding cutbacks could wipe out CTV and take away its production facilities.
The 15-year-old program is the nation’s longest-running cable access show focusing on people with disabilities. While “Disability Viewpoints” and other shows could move to other public access cable providers or venues such as YouTube, program volunteers are quick to defend the staff and volunteers of CTV for their work to produce the show.
The North Suburban Access Corporation, CTV, is a non-profit organization that provides public access community television to the cities of Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Little Canada, Mounds View, New Brighton, North Oaks, Roseville, St. Anthony and Shoreview. CTV is managed by the North Suburban Communications Commission, which is made up of representatives of each of the member cities. The commission administers and enforces the franchise agreement with the cable company. Comcast’s 15-year cable TV contract with the commission was to expire at the end of 2013, but was extended through 2014.
CTV community programming is funded by an annual operating grant from Comcast along with a $500,000 equipment grant. The operating grant for 2013 was just under $1.5 million. The grant comes from a monthly Public/Educational/Government (PEG) fee of $4.15 per cable subscriber. Comcast wants to cut the fee to 42 cents per subscriber and eliminate the equipment grant.
Comcast also wants to take several channels currently set aside for PEG access programming. In its written and public hearing comments Comcast has said there isn’t a need for eight channels. Comcast has also criticized CTV for repetitive programming and has suggested programming could go to the Internet or live streaming.
A comment period on the franchise proposal closed May 1. The cable commission will review all of the citizen comments, as well as staff and consultant reports, before it makes a recommendation to the 10 member cities. Each city then has to vote to approve or deny the agreement. Denial could then send the issue to an administrative law judge.
Program founder and co-host Mark Hughes and others spoke about the important of “Disability Viewpoints” and CTV at a packed April 17 public hearing at Shoreview City Hall. Supporters pointed out the many issues “Disability Viewpoints” covers and what it means for its audience.
Hughes invited Comcast to watch production of a show before any decisions are made. He asked that the impacts on the audience and show production crew be considered. “It takes a village, it takes a lot of people, to do this,” he said. Jo Erbes is an 11-year volunteer with the show. She pointed out that “Disability Viewpoints” has won seven national Home Town Media awards. “This could not have been accomplished without the talents of our camera crew, directors, interns and ex ecutive producers. Many of these talented individuals have gone on to produce shows of their own, volunteer on other shows or move into management positions.”
Erbes also pointed out that “Disability Viewpoints” is rebroadcast on Metro Cable Channel 6, on Twin Cities Public Television and is shared with five cable companies in other communities. “The disability community turns to CTV and ‘Disability Viewpoints’ for information, legislative updates and help in finding services,” Erbes said. She asked the commission to continue to support CTV with the operating funds necessary for the studio to continue to provide programming.
Co-host Nicholas Wilke also spoke. “My first experience with CTV was over 12 years ago when I first was asked to be a guest on Disability Viewpoints,” he said. “Even back then I was struck by the need to share and be more aware of stations like CTV, what kind of stories were being told and how did those stories provide opportunity and make a difference in the community’s life.” He asked the cable commission to allow CTV staff and volunteers to allow the ‘Disability Viewpoints’ crew to continue bringing its program and passion for issues to viewers.
“Disability Viewpoints” is a community treasure. For those of us who have been part of the show, as guests, volunteers, and an audience, we are keenly aware of the necessity of this platform for discussing disability topics and issues,” said Bridget Siljander, leader of the Youth Legacy Foundation. Her daughter is the “Disability Viewpoints” teen co-host. Siljander said, “This show has given a face and voice to youth with disabilities, who have limited opportunities to showcase their talents and contributions.”