BronxNet overwhelms Cablevision hearing

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BronxNet boosters urged Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to “stay Bronx strong” in negotiations with Cablevision at a public hearing on Thursday, October 15. Fans of the public access television network outnumbered other interests three-to-one inside the Bronx County Court Building Rotunda.

“Public access is an important commitment to the people of the Bronx,” BronxNet executive director Michael Max Knobbe said. “The people of the Bronx must not be left behind!”

Cablevision had its Bronx cable television monopoly shattered in 2008, when the city granted an additional franchise agreement to Verizon FiOs. The new cable kid on the block has been generous in its support of BronxNet; the public access network would prefer to see Cablevision follow suit before its franchise is renewed.

A BronxNet-commissioned needs assessment found the public access network’s Lehman College studio inadequate for the borough and its equipment outdated. Knobbe wants to upgrade the Lehman College studio. He also wants to establish satellite studios in the south Bronx and east Bronx.

When the city grants a cable television franchise agreement – the right to run cables over and under public land – it requires that the cable firm support public access. Verizon FiOs and BronxNet negotiated a sum based on the public access network’s needs assessment, Knobbe said. Cablevision, in the Bronx since 1983, has not increased its support since its franchise agreement was last renewed, in 1998. Diaz Jr. is one-sixth of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee that will determine Cablevision’s future in the Bronx.

More than 70 people signed up to testify at the October 15 hearing and Elizabeth Losinski of Cablevision testified first. Cablevision built its system in the Bronx from scratch. It was the only firm to bid on the Bronx franchise agreement in 1983 and today employs more than 1,300 people in the borough.

Cablevision offers high-quality television and international programs even as it faces “unpreceden­ted competition,” Losinski said. More than 66 percent of Bronx households and businesses use Cablevision. Power to Learn, the Cablevision education initiative, offers free video and Internet to more than 400 schools in the borough. In response to a Diaz Jr. question, Losinski stated that any schools yet to benefit from Power to Learn are at fault, rather than Cablevision.

Bernice Williams of Community Board 5 described Cablevision as unaffordable and Westchester Square and Port Morris businessman John Bonizio revealed that Cablevision is unavailable in some spots and thereby is in violation of its mandate.

Otherwise, the hearing was a parade of BronxNet luminaries and fans. Open host Rhina Valentin, BronxTalk host Gary Axelbank testified, as did reps from the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Council on the Arts, Lehman High School, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and EnFoco. Greg Bell, an advocate for the disabled, commended BronxNet for the program Special People, Special Issues. SoBRO founder Michael Gill revealed that BronxNet’s economic output is triple its budget. BronxNet acquaints young people with media and technology, teacher James McSherry said. Former interns at the public access network have won nine Emmy Awards, Emmy winner Sean McGinn noted.

The city has not published a timeline for negotiations but hopes to finish soon. It appears that parallel negotiations between Cablevision and BronxNet will play a role.

Updated 5:26 pm, October 21, 2011
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