CMC Faces Uncertainty

December 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Community Media Center is preparing for the worst.

The Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act, which was passed by the Michigan State House and Senate, could affect the funding the center receives from Grand Rapids. As of last week it was awaiting Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s signature.

The city currently receives 5 percent of the gross profit from cable franchises and then gives the CMC 40 percent of that gross profit, amounting to about $500,000 in funding per year, said Laurie Cirivello, executive director of the Grand RapidsCommunityMediaCenter

“We are disappointed with the final bill,” she said. “There were a number of amendments that were presented on the floor that were serious attempts to deal with the details that make community access very vulnerable.”

Cirivello said those protections were not passed, leaving the center in a precarious position and cautious as plans are made for the future.

Until the effects are known, Cirivello said she and other members of GRTV and the CommunityMediaCenter are meeting with representatives from Grand Rapids and other stakeholders to evaluate the bill and determine what it will mean for the center and the municipalities.

While the $500,000 a year the center receives from cable franchising fees through the city is not guaranteed, Cirivello said she is also concerned about the in-kind services that the cable companies provide to the public, education and government stations.

“We are just sort of wondering about what happens to the things that are not sort of dollar issues,” she said. “It’s an uncomfortable era of uncertainty.”

Cirivello said the changes to the cable franchise will have varying effects across the state. “That’s what makes it so darn complicated,” she said. “The impact of this bill in GR is different from the impact of this bill in Livonia. Every community will be affected differently.”

Jon Koeze, cable television administrator for the city of Grand Rapids, said the bill fell short of the city’s expectations, but he does not know yet what impact that will have.

“Had everything gone as we expected it to, we probably would have lived with it, but it fell short of our expectations in things that we held as particularly important,” he said. “We really have to see how this shakes out. There are a number of different directions it could take; we’re just kind of holding our breath.”

Koeze said in addition to the effect the bill could have on the CommunityMediaCenter, it could also affect the closed-circuit training programs that are broadcast from police headquarters to the fire departments. Agreements such as free cable to fire departments and programs with the public schools may also be in jeopardy, as they will no longer be written into a franchise agreement, but at the discretion of the provider.

“There’s nothing that prevents them from doing it,” he said of offering the extra services detailed in past franchise agreements. “We’re trying to play nice.”

Eric DeLong, deputy city manager of Grand Rapids, said while the city is in the process of analyzing the situation, he admits it is an entirely new paradigm that everyone has to get used to.

“With competition, which is good, comes responsibility,” he said. “We’ll see if the two go together.”    

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