(Opinion) Coleman: Open Letter on People TV Atlanta
Dear Atlanta City Council,
With the run up to the 2021 Municipal Elections underway, you’re in the last months of your tenure as the 2018-2021 Atlanta City Council.
Some of you have decided to seek a different elected position; some will undoubtedly be reelected; but some of you will not return, either by choice or by election outcome.
In either case, I write to you, on behalf of several former and potential Atlanta public access producers, to ask that you finish the work you started: the revitalization of Atlanta’s public access TV channel, Comcast Channel 24.
To borrow a quote from U.S. President Joe Biden, it’s time to “build back, better.”
A Contrast of Political Will
Atlanta City Council has demonstrated that when you want something, you have the political will to make it happen, and happen quickly.
Consider City of Atlanta Resolution 21-R-3110, sponsored by Councilmembers Antonio Brown (District 3) and Natalyn Archibong (District 5), adopted Feb. 15 2021, to “conduct a study to determine the feasibility of creating a new water bottling and distribution municipal enterprise.“
The resolution authorized a working group be established for the term of 120 days to collaborate with the Administration on the feasibility study and to explore ways to make such an enterprise possible.
Contrast the 120-day timeline for 21-R-3110 with the timeline for revitalization of Atlanta public access TV, as of April 07, 2021: 1,058 days and counting.
Here is a timeline of what has transpired:
- May 15, 2018 – After an unsuccessful effort by the City to put the public access channel out for bid, Lanese Harris, Director Television and Technology, reported to City Utilities Committee that the Administration had terminated a 2017 contract with a public access TV operator and “the Administration has agreed that People TV will proceed with programming on a month-to-month basis until a long-term plan is approved to build the public access channel in a direction which can serve the communities information needs in this digital age.”
- October 2019 – The Office of Communications initiated a special procurement agreement (SP-S-1200233) for People TV to operate the public channel for a term of one year, with the option to renew for two additional one-year terms.
- Dec. 10, 2019 – Lanese Harris, Director Television and Technology, presented a “Atlanta Public Access TV – Strategic Revisioning” plan to City Utilities Committee. The plan outlined a roadmap for revitalizing Atlanta public access TV including engaging a consultant and surveying the community’s communications needs. Estimated project timeline: twelve to eighteen months.
- June 15, 2020 – Atlanta City Council adopts resolution 20-R-4051 “A resolution by City Utilities Committee authorizing the Mayor, to enter into special procurement agreement SP-S-1200233, public access cable channel operator with People TV, Inc., on behalf of the Mayor’s Office of Communications, for an initial term of one (1) year with the option to renew for two additional one-year terms in an amount not to exceed one hundred eighty thousand dollars and zero cents ($180,000.00) for the purpose of continuing the operation of Channel 24; all contracted work to be charged to and paid from the fund department organization and account numbers listed herein; and for other purposes.”
- March 09, 2021 – Effective date of People TV, Inc. contract to manage public access channel, Comcast channel 24, for one year, per Lanese Harris.
Does Atlanta City Council have the political will to take steps to actualize a revitalization of Atlanta public access TV?
Delay Not A Question of Money
Revitalization of Atlanta public access TV is not hampered by a lack of money.
During the period of 2018 to 2020, the City of Atlanta collected an estimated fifteen million dollars in cable franchise fees, collected from Comcast cable subscribers, based on the City’s Comcast Franchise Fee Audit.
During the same three-year period, the City of Atlanta invested an estimated 562 thousand dollars in Atlanta public access TV.
From Public Access To Community Media
In the 1980’s, Atlanta’s public access TV model was recognized as one of the best in the country, but times have changed. Our communities, technology, educational, and workforce development needs have changed.
The analog model of public access TV no longer works in the digital and now virtual age.
It’s time Atlanta transitions to a community media model as other major cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; and Charlotte, North Carolina have done. We can do this while maintaining our core values of free speech and non-discriminatory access for all.
Here is what I recommend the City Council do going forward:
Adopt legislation to reconstitute the Cable Access TV Advisory Board (CATV) to provide community oversight of public access TV channel operations and make recommendations to the Mayor and Council on public access TV policies and short/long term strategies for revitalization, community engagement, and sustainability of Atlanta public access TV. This proposed Board would be independent of the channel operator. Proposed timeline: forty-five to sixty days.
Adopt legislation authorizing and supporting the Administration’s work plan for revitalizing Atlanta public access TV with dates certain for project phases and tasks. Proposed timeline: sixty to ninety days.
Amend legislation for appointments to People TV Board of Directors, and any future public boards with governance of public access channel, to set aside seats to be appointed by Atlanta Planning and Advisory Board (APAB) in order to foster Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) engagement and to ensure equitable and diverse representation on the Board.
Thank you for your continued support of Atlanta public access TV, but your work is unfinished.
Please make revitalization of Atlanta public access TV a priority in 2021.
If not now, when?
Adrian Coleman Tyler
Atlanta Public Access Producers Association (ATL-PAPA)
(Copyright / Atlanta Progressive News, Inc. / 2021)
Editor’s Note: (Sponsored Op-Ed) – This opinion article was sponsored by its author with a financial contribution to Atlanta Progressive News to support our work.