Lineup Switch Irks Bay-Area Cities

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Some San Francisco Bay-area cities are knuckling down for a
possible fight over the decision by AT&T Broadband & Internet Services to unify
cable-channel lineups in the area, to the detriment of local-access channels.

The operator serves systems in 90 percent of the Bay area,
and it announced recently that it would shift programming provided to nearly 1 million
homes to create "affinity clusters" of networks.

But some cities that have been notified of the changes said
shifts that bump their local-access channels off accustomed slots may violate local
franchise rules.

"We've placed the operator on notice. We demand
that they tell us the rationale for the move," Saratoga, Calif., city manager Larry
Perlin said. "For a year, we've been getting sort of mealymouthed explanations.
We'll never be satisfied without chapter and verse."

Under the channel lineup announced by AT&T Broadband,
Saratoga's local station, KSAR, will be bumped from channel 6 to channel 15 as of
Sept. 22.

Other California cities' local stations will be
affected, too. Mountain View subscribers will see KMVT shifted, along with Los Gatos'
KCAT and Milpitas' local-origination station.

The beneficiary is San Jose, Calif.-based broadcaster KICU.
AT&T Broadband appears to have a strong business rationale for moving KICU to prime
real estate: The station has the local rights to Golden State Warriors National Basketball
Association and Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball games.

Further, the broadcaster is slotted on channel 6 in much of
the northern end of the Bay-area cable cluster.

The switch was triggered by a must-carry request by the
stations, cities were told. But KICU was already carried. And its off-air channel is 36,
not 6, regulators noted.

City officials from the four communities asked AT&T
Broadband for a response, but they held out little hope of either an explanation or
capitulation.

After all, they noted, the cable operator has already
printed up and begun distributing new lineup cards. Further, the changes are advertised in
full-page spreads in local papers.

Perlin said cities such as his are angry because executives
from both the broadcast station and cable company have attended local-access-corporation
meetings. This signaled that a change was percolating, but the parties said they would
provide advance notice, Perlin said. The broadcaster was especially wary of creating
negative feelings.

Attorneys advised Saratoga officials that the shift
violated its cable franchise, which designates channel 6 as the home of public access
through the end of the agreement, in 2007. It can be shifted for must-carry
considerations, but attorneys questioned the applicability of that policy.

The City Council has initiated enforcement proceedings.
Perlin said the Saratoga franchise could allow for fines of up to $500 per day for
violations.

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