Albuquerque’s community cable channels are finally up for grabs. A long-awaited Request for Proposals (RFP) has been issued by the city for management of our public access community cable channels.
Through an agreement with Comcast cable, the city has access to four channels—channel 16 or GOV-TV, which the city operates, and channels 26, 27 and 96 which are currently being operated by uPublic Studios. The dough for the four Public, Education and Government (PEG) community channels comes from Comcast, as part of its franchise agreement with the city.
The current Comcast agreement expired in October 2017, and has been extended once with another six-month extension expected to be on the next council agenda. Comcast pays the city $0.44 cents per cable user per yearly quarter. This generates millions of dollars for city use, but the amount does fluctuate a bit from fiscal quarter to fiscal quarter, due to the number of cable subscribers. Though Weekly Alibi requested information from the city with regards to the amount of money currently in the PEG account, officials had not responded as of press time.
But not all that money goes to the community cable channels. Most of the money is held in an account to be used for various cable, internet and broadband infrastructure maintenance in city, school and government buildings. To keep an eye on all of this fiduciary action, the city has a three-person board to oversee the cable franchise agreement negotiations and the money collected; the board also hears complaints against Comcast.
Looking back, for nearly 30 years previously, an organization called Quote…Unquote, Inc. was the operator of the channels. The content and shows varied within free speech norms, from pro-gun to pro-marijuana to pro-
In November 2011 Mayor Richard Berry issued a request for proposals and awarded a 5-year annual $335,000 contract to uPublic Studios to operate the channels. Quote…Unquote’s involvement abruptly ended.
Then the drama started. In June 2012, just days before Quote…Unquote’s contract was set to expire, armed security guards were hired by the Berry administration to block access to Quote…Unquote’s buildings and offices.
Subsequently, a lawsuit was filed by Quote…Unquote for an injunction to stop the new contract and the change in operators, but the injunction was denied by a state district judge. Surprisingly, the lawsuit is still alive and there is an upcoming April 10 court date on a motion for summary judgment.
Afterward things did not sail smoothly for uPublic, and there has been continual public disapproval, perhaps because all the established community-generated shows were dumped and had to reapply under new parameters. Very few, if any, survived the cuts. uPublic was put on official city notice in July 2016 that it was in non-compliance of its contract for not providing the required amount of locally generated shows and content, opting for cheap video from elsewhere. Local ProView Networks was brought in by uPublic to broadcast high school and other local sporting events. uPublic has continued to operate under contract extensions while this new RFP was being drafted.
The 62-page request for proposals goes over minute aspects of what the city wants to see from operators. The RFP is not easy to find on the city’s website, one must log in as a vendor to see it. A curve ball in the document is that the city has the option to give contracts to not just one but to two contractors. The details of this change are vague but the option opens some interesting possibilities.
• Channel 26 is for Local Origination (LO) which means locally produced and original programming—with a focus on the cultural, educational, civic, ethnic, recreational, health-related, philosophical, and other interests and activities of the city’s residents, their neighborhoods, schools and associations.
• Channel 27 is for other locally produced, original programming that doesn’t fit into the above parameters.
• Channel 96 is for educational access. There is no funding allocated for channel 96 but the RFP says educational access to this channel will continue to be provided in exchange for the use of the space and city-owned equipment.
• The RFP requires a diverse participation on all channels through outreach, promotions, and other contact with local civic and nonprofit organizations and schools to create content.
• Operators must provide field and studio production training certification to educate the public in the use of public access television.
• Operators must provide a minimum of 120 hours per week of Public Access programing with 96 hours of that locally produced by fully trained and certified field and studio production people. A minimum of 30 percent of the 120 programming hours must be original and local programming; All programs must be non-commercial, contemporary quality and of the highest standard, pass the city’s quality screening and meet all federal requirements.
• Accountability and use of best practices are required in the plan; as is the maintenance and repair of city-owned television equipment.
Shortly after the new RFP was released, the local community cable wires started buzzing. Who is likely to take on our community access television?
The most likely applicants are: Quote…UnQuote—these folks are still around and will almost certainly vie for their re-establishment. Another likely applicant is ProView which has been successfully airing popular high school and other sports pretty much full time on one of the channels. And the third most obvious applicant for city vendor status is uPublic who told us back in November that they will bid again. But there may other innovative folks out there willing to take a shot at providing a very important venue for free speech in these interesting times and willing to work within the heavily regulated allotted funds. Stay tuned—the bids are due April 28.