Recent developments in the story about community cable in Albuquerque point to a revisioning of the system that includes inclusion of founder, longtime past operator, litigant and patient background dweller Quote Unquote.
The conclusion to this long drawn-out cultural affair was ultimately moved along by a recent court settlement, a new executive director of the storied content provider and producer—as well as a new attitude toward such endeavors at city hall.
But that’s not all that shaped the current situation. Other important factors surely include a current operator that has repeatedly been cited for noncompliance regarding the amount of locally produced content available through the system. In addition, the city council’s decision to declare some of the current community cable bidders as non-responsive opens the option of using multiple providers for local public access and community cable content, including Quote Unquote.
At this point in the history of our town, the story about community cable has reached beyond what local reporters commonly call legendary and into that other, more rarified realm whose resident narratives are mythological in content.
Before we get started with that ramble though, it’s important to define terms. According to our estimable reporter Carolyn Carlson, “The city gets its money to operate the four Public, Education and Governmental (PEG) channels with money from Comcast, as part of its franchise agreement with the city. Comcast pays the city $.44 cents per cable customer per quarter, thereby generating an amount in the millions that fluctuates due to consumer subscription trends. In addition to these big bucks, Comcast also gives the city access to four channels—channel 16 or GOV-TV, which the city operates, and channels 26, 27 and 96.”
Anyway, this story began so many years ago, after all, that many contemporary and active residents of the middle-sized burg—on the banks of a tiny river that calls itself grand—might not recall the details of the deal that sent a longtime community leader and cultural arbiter into a sort of exile while the essence of public television programming changed into something different altogether.
When it first broke nearly 10 years ago, there were some who thought that Quote Unquote’s loss of aegis in running the city’s agreement with local cable provider Comcast would be a brief one. Instead it stretched out nearly eight years longer and Weekly Alibi has been there since the beginning, wondering along with the rest of a stunned citizenry, when a workable resolution would be found.
In 2012, Berry pulled the plug on Quote Unquote, calling for an RFP (a formal request for proposals) to find a replacement for the 30 year-plus veteran of Albuquerque’s community, public and educational airwaves.
That same year, the staff and everything that had to do with that organization were unceremoniously removed from their broadcast headquarters in city hall. Eventually the whole operation was replaced by an entity called UPublic and their subcontractor, ProView Networks.
UPublic produces one program. According to Quote Unquote board members, it repeats that limited programming multiple times during a week, a tactic they claim that programmer Rick Metz has said helps fulfill the parameters of providing a set amount of original local programming per week. Additionally, subcontractor ProView Networks provides a plethora of live high school sports broadcasting that also contributes to the amount of original local programming called for in the city contract. Weekly Alibi reached out to UPublic about these matters but got no response.
As of press time, according to our sources at city hall, the RFPs submitted by all three of these entities have been disqualified and UPublic also remains under the oversight of the City Council due to numerous instances of noncompliance. These current conditions may be one reason the city could turn to Quote Unquote for production services covered under its contract with Comcast.
Shortly after Tim Keller was elected mayor of Albuquerque, Weekly Alibi reported on what was then the latest news about Quote Unquote. Readers learned that a lawsuit was awaiting final adjudication in September 2018. Well, that time has come and gone and indeed, a settlement has been reached.
In November 2018 Quote Unquote settled with the city for an undisclosed sum. Though some of the details remain proprietary, we can report on some of the more important specifics of the court settlement. The city had to pay Quote Unquote. More importantly, Keller and co. ceded control over the unused city educational channel 96 to the nonprofit, setting up a situation where Quote Unquote can begin operations again out of its current location at Robert F. Kennedy Middle School. Though the channel 96 is unfunded, a revitalized board is working hard to get back on the air and into the community.
Weekly Alibi was so excited about all of this that we began dialing up all sorts of folks involved with Quote Unquote. We spoke to board member Lara Dale, who contributed an eloquent and informative discourse about the cultural and academic roots of the organization.
Dale told us that during its three decade tenure, Quote Unquote was considered one of the premier public and community television producers in the country and had developed on the wings of other successful outlets at New York University and in Berkeley, Calif. by groundbreaking television mavericks like George Stoney and Bill and Denise Makley.
Although Dale is still aggrieved about a process she says took away a vital civic cultural component created and sustained by her efforts and the efforts of her colleagues like longtime Quote Unquote Executive Director Steve Ranieri, she’s very hopeful that the city will ultimately return to a normative course that incorporates Quote Unquote into the navigational process.
She’s also thrilled about the appointment of a new executive director, Colleen Gorman, who she believes will successfully lead the organization into the future.
Gorman rose to the position last week, succeeding Ranieri, who remains on the organization’s board of directors. We reached out to the new director to say hello, to tell her that we still had her group in mind and that we wanted to tell our readers more about what will become of community cable in Burque.
We’ll close with her words, then.
Weekly Alibi: Where are we right now with this issue?
The city Cable and Franchise Board was providing some oversight to the RFP process and the franchise agreement, but they haven’t met since October. The city has changed the way they do things. For instance, city legal is no longer providing oversight to access operations. In the past complaints about content would go to them, now that’s under the purview of Hakim Bellamy at Cultural Services. I’ve been talking with Hakim, negotiating a contract for the educational channel.
When was that decision handed down?
Back in November.
What about channels 26 and 27?
Since formally there were no qualified applicants [they were all disqualified, including UPublic, ProView and Quote Unquote], the city can just directly bid with individual providers. They’ll be bidding out to content providers, they’ll be managing the head-end of all production services.
What does the next step look like, both for your organization and for interested citizens?
This will come up at an upcoming City Council meeting. They will be voting on the contract of the current single qualified candidate for channel 27, UPublic. They have also been found to be out of compliance in terms of the local shows they produce and broadcast. It’s sort of a weird situation. He hasn’t actually been producing much local content over the past seven years. His subcontractor, ProView, produces content in channel 26 and he says he is, overall, compliant because of the great amount of work ProView does on that channel. So we’re still waiting to hear what becomes of that [part of the story].
Do you feel like this long journey has resulted in success for your organization and more importantly for the public that you all aim to serve?
I’m really excited about Quote Unquote getting educational access. We absolutely want to reach out to the community, and we want to find out what the top issues are in communities around the city and around the state—from traditional outsiders to citizen and educational groups on the Rez, et cetera—so that will ultimately inform our programming and add to the educational opportunities available to all. That’s the essence of community, public access and educational access television services.