To be able to win a cable franchise, the company must provide public, educational and governmental (PEG) access. Such access bring us programs, ranging from exotic cooking, to school board meetings, to one-man and one-woman shows.
But leave it to cold, calculating Comcast, that behemoth cable company, to find a way to wiggle out of their public and contractual obligation and find yet another way to make a few more bucks.
A federal judge in Michigan issued a court order January 14, temporarily halting Comcast's plans to move community access channels from basic cable to digital cable. The order came after a lawsuit was filed January 11 by two townships outside Lansing, Mich., arguing that the company made their plans without consulting with the communities, and violated both state and federal laws. At least 40,000 customers statewide would be affected by the move, the suit claims, because they couldn't afford the converter box needed to receive digital cable.
Comcast said that the lawsuits had not basis. The company needed to free up bandwidth so it can offer more services, which ultimately mean higher prices (always read the fine print in their ads).
Supposedly, Comcast offered the non-digital customers a free cable box for one year. (Warning, warning! -- These boxes cost $4 a month --- that's an additional $48 dollars the company can put on these customers' monthly tab. Again, always read the fine print with anything Comcast offers that is "free.")
All U.S. television broadcasting must convert from analog to digital signals in February 2009. If you have already have a digital box, or digital TV, you're good to go. If not, you can purchase a converter box (go to www.dtv.gov for more details).
Thank goodness, there's a judge out there who can smell a rat. There is a judge on the federal court circuit who isn't a big business lackey, and still looks out for the little guy, who must content with the Comcasts of the world.
Especially this Comcast, who tried an unethical maneuver to collect more dough, by forcing non-digital customers who religiously watch public access programming to eventually pay more to get it. This is nothing more than slick corporate tactics.
Yet again, what you'd expect when municipalities don't represent the public interest as they should. What you expect when cable franchises, which are awarded to someone else, are allowed to be bought by out-of-town city slickers such as Comcast, without any checks and balances.
The only checks and balances is when Comcast get our checks, while keeping their greedy fingers greased, and keeping us customers (for full disclosure purposes, sadly I have a Comcast customer -- my cable owners have changed hands four times since I first had it installed almost 20 years ago) out of balance.
Cable franchises should be subjected to better scrutiny, by better watchdogs. They should be given only one-year, non-renewable licenses, not a perpetual license to print money, which is the case when typical bureaucratic rubber stamping is involved.
Especially someone as scrupulous as Comcast sometimes appeaer. They call it "Comcast - ic," Comcast's silly slogan -- to me, it's being slick.
No word yet if a permanent motion was granted. Personally, I'm cheering for the little guys.