The future of cable TV |

The future of cable TV

PITKIN COUNTY ” What will cable TV in the Roaring Fork Valley look like in coming years?

Pitkin County and the town of Snowmass Village hired Denver-based River Oaks Communications Corporation to help sort it out.

The consulting firm will renegotiate expiring franchise agreements with cable operator Comcast to reshape the local cable spectrum.

Thursday, local interest groups ranging from school board representatives and Colorado Mountain College officials to staff from Aspen’s GrassRoots TV and CGTV 11, the local government channel, had a chance to chime in on what they want.

River Oaks officials will take the suggestions of the groups to the Comcast bargaining table and draft an agreement shaping local cable for the coming years, said River Oaks President Thomas Duchen.

Over a 20-year career, Duchen has haggled with cable companies for area coverage and designated public, educational and government (PEG) TV access for countless county and municipal governments, he said.

The Pitkin County contract doesn’t expire until November 2009 ” and the town of Snowmass Village in December 2009 ” but Duchen stressed the importance of nailing down an agreement soon.

New federal legislation would, if passed, make it easier for phone companies and other vendors to get into the cable business without making local concessions, such as access for local programming, Duchen said.

He hopes to have the job done in three to four months.

Pitkin County officials plan to change the programming on channel 8, which posts computer updates of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport arrivals and departures with Aspen Public Radio (KAJX) playing in the background.

With the planned change, however, KAJX would have to find another home.

“Cable’s been great for us to get to our listeners,” said Andrew Todd, executive director of Aspen Public Radio.

In the mountainous Roaring Fork Valley, many people tune in on cable instead of trying to pick up a radio signal, he said.

“We’re interested in seeing if we have a presence on cable,” Todd said.

There was discussion of creating an educational channel, extending cable lines from Highway 82 toward Old Snowmass, and some at Thursdays meeting asked for more live hookup points in the area.

Local live drops include the GrassRoots studio, Aspen City Council chambers, Plaza One (where the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners meet) and the town of Snowmass Village chambers, but Masters suggested direct uplinks for live programming at the Aspen Institute and Aspen High School.

Steve Campbell, who the GrassRoots TV board recently denied the right to play a controversial Holocaust denial film, was on hand at Thursday’s meeting.

“Recently, I wanted to air a film that was rejected by the [GrassRoots TV] board of directors,” Campbell said.

GrassRoots TV executive director John Masters said staff rarely pre-screen shows at the station, but the film Campbell submitted was an exception.

“It’s basically instigated the need for a policy,” Masters said.

Masters went on to say that GrassRoots TV is in the process of moving to high-definition digital ” all TV must convert to digital in February 2009 ” and the nonprofit plans a major renovation in coming years. Masters hopes the cable negotiations will mean some construction funding for GrassRoots TV.

Duchen said that cable companies value local programming because it distinguishes cable from satellite TV which has no public access or low-power broadcasting stations such as Aspen’s Plum TV.

Duchen will meet with Pitkin County and Snowmass officials in coming months. Any final franchise agreement requires a vote, he said.

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