Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Ann Arbor Cable Service

25. July 2009 • Bruce Fields
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In response to MattH’s request, cable commissioner Jeff Meyers writes:

I’ve been pushing CTN to provide Google or YouTube videos of all council and commission meetings. Their response has been that there have been no requests for such an offering and so they are reluctant to allocate resources to do so. If you would like the option of accessing the city’s meetings via those video services I highly recommend sending letters and emails letting CTN know your desires.

and to Alan Goldsmith’s question: “any word on CTN working with AT&T Uverse to broadcast its programing? I still get to pay my local tax each month on my bill but CTN isn’t available”:

We have unsuccessfully tried to convince AT&T to assign the city its own channels and they refuse to do so.

What more could we be getting out of CTN and the local cable franchises?

  1. I have a few questions of Commissioner Jeff Meyers.

    I notice that this is a City Council election cycle year for Marcia Higgins, who is one of two City Council representatives that sits on the Cable Commission.

    Do you have any comments or criticisms on her performance, attendance, or other aspect of Marcia Higgins’ tenure on the Commission?

    Do you believe that the Cable Commission still performs an important function despite the fact that the State of Michigan has pre-empted many areas that had been under the Cable Commission’s jurisdiction?

       —Junior    Jul. 26 '09 - 12:26AM    #
  2. Last year, I wrote a detailed policy analysis of CTN for a UM law class.

    The short of it is: CTN is stuck in an age of cable broadcast. Their primary method of production and dissemination of community media is obsolete.

    Cable used to be one of the only choices for getting local multimedia out. It’s time-based: you need to tune in at the right time to get the programming you want, or configure a recording device to save it for you.

    Now we have the Internet. There’s no reason to be stuck on a TV schedule. And you can add so much more — citizen-generated annotations, transcripts, comments are features unavailable through cable TV.

    Yes, there are people who still need to get information via cable TV. But I don’t think we need the expense of four local cable access channels that few people watch. I think the programming can be drastically consolidated and the resources of the organization shifted to reflect the current state of media production.

    I appreciate that Jeff Meyers is pushing for new technologies. However, cable commissioners (notably Mike Mouradian, Tom Bray, and Ron Suarez) have tried in the past. CTN systematically chooses to disregard their advice.

    CTN could be a civic media powerhouse. They could offer cheap cameras for checkout, short media classes on important topics, build a local media hub online, and offer their videos for download.

       —MattH    Jul. 26 '09 - 09:17AM    #
  3. AT&T is never going to give Ann Arbor three channels. This is a done deal and all this ‘write your state legislature rep’ is a waste of time. This was pushed by the Democratic Party and several unions because AT&T in unionized and Comcast isn’t. CTN has a budget of a million plus a year from the user tax (5%? I need to pull out my Uverse bill) and as more customers make the shift, the service is going to slowly reach fewer customers.

    As a voter, a taxpayer and a cable bill tax payer, I agree with MattH. CTN needs to be more forward thinking and start to move into the 21st Centur.

    As for Marcia Higgins, from reading a few scattered minutes to some Cable Commission meetings, not sure if she’s done anything with her time in this position to oversee the million or so yearly budget other than supporting the status quo, which is a technology mindset circa 1980.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 26 '09 - 11:29PM    #
  4. CTN’s 2008 budget was around $1.5 Million, most of that from cable franchise fees (not taxes)

       —MattH    Jul. 27 '09 - 02:09AM    #
  5. Eh, it’s a tax on the cable bill…lol.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Jul. 27 '09 - 02:34AM    #
  6. In order to be viable, especially in this age, it is in CTN’s best interests to take heed the conversation happening here. The hardest part (the cameras to record meetings, the infrastructure) is done. Why not supplant announcements with a runner underneath the channel showing the live video content and shows, and use them as bumpers going into the next show?

    Given the nature of my work schedule, I’d LOVE to be able to check in on a planning commission (or any other meeting, for that matter) by checking up on it on YouTube. Other than tape transfer time (which could likely be solved by capturing the broadcast as it’s being put to tape) and the cost of the device (which CTN may already own and, if not, costs between $30-400 max, depending on what level you’re looking at), there’s nothing preventing them from doing it.

    Get an intern / volunteer to load them in. (Free)

    Simple, no?

       —Jeremy Peters    Jul. 28 '09 - 12:05AM    #
  7. To be clear: CTN already streams videos online at two addresses (meetings etc.) and (other local programming)

    However, this system has several deficiencies: * There’s no way to download the original video, so you can’t put them on your TV, iPod, PSP, or other device, or watch them on your laptop while not connected to the Internet. * There’s no way to discuss the content of videos. You can’t mark a clip as interesting or add additional information.

    There are lots of cool possibilities for CTN’s video — I wrote much more about them in my report.

       —MattH    Jul. 28 '09 - 12:37AM    #
  8. Wow, step away from a site for a few days and look what happens. I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring the discussion here but unfortunately I am currently swamped with work before leaving for vacation. That said, I’ll try to address a few things quickly….

    (1) I very much agree with Matt’s sentiments and have a copy of his reoprt and look forward to reading it.

    (2) For the last few years I have strongly advocated greater emphasis on web technologies and citizen access to content via the Internet. This seems to not only be a no-brainer (as the technologies are merging) but with proper oversight could be handled in a provocative and revolutionary way. Unfortunately, the wheels have moved far slower than I would like. Tom Bray was indeed an equally strong advocate. Ron, when he was available, also was a passionate supporter. My observation is that the friction arises from (a) bureacracy… changes come slowly, deliberately and with much hand wringing over who has the authority to do what and how and (b) cultural. The people who are most intimately associated with the process are not particularly web savvy or understanding of how impt innovating content delivery for the web is. I do what I can but the truth is we meet once a month and have little impact

    (3)Which brings us to the question of my relevancy. It is indeed minor, esp after the legislation. I’m not interested in getting into a political debate but I will express that I was very very much against it and think it neither serves the citizens of Michigan economically, civically or technologically. Since we no longer have any say in franchise agreements our role as commissioners is severely diminshed and we are little more than stewards of the budget —which IMO is dealt with by CTN responsibly though not necessarily creatively— and advocates for technological reorientation.

    (4) My impression of Marcia Higgins is that she is a shrewd (in a good way) and knowledgeable council person who, when present, actively engaged with the issues. The commission doesn’t really lend itself to much controversy but I would say on the few issues where we differed in opinion she was respectful and thoughtful. I don’t say this to be politic (anyone who knows me knows I can be quite passionate about my opinions) but as an honest assessment of my interactions with her. I find Sandi Smith to be similarly dedicated, if not more earnest. Ron and I, of course, probably shared the most commonality because we better saw where CTN might go if it had the passion to do so.

    (5) As for letters to the legislature, AT&T etc… call me idealistic, but I always think it is worthwhile to voice your concerns and complaints no matter how hard the uphill climb. Citizen backlash has already had a positive influence in several venues – even if those have been temporary. Similarly, the state has been prompted to address the numerous complaints that, well, complaints are no longer addressed. For instance, the legislation eliminated the requirement that cabel companies record and report consumer complaints to the commission, allowing them to police themselves. Obviously this has porved less than satisfactory for some consumers.

    I hope this answers more questions than it incites (if only because I have limited time right now to post). But please, I am always interested to read what people think and want from CTN. I’d even be happy to bring what I read here to our commission meetings. For instance… do you want city commission meetings available on YouTube etc? (I suspect you do) If so, let me and, more importantly, CTN know. That way I have back up when I push for it.

    Thanks for reading. I look forward to doing likewise.

       —Jeff Meyers    Jul. 28 '09 - 07:41AM    #
  9. Thanks Jeff! No worries about not being able to monitor everything 24-7 :-) (I often switch between being able to reply every 5 minutes … then every 48 hours)

    I don’t know that I’d want the videos on YouTube. I’d prefer that they all be released in a generic format, like MPEG, with a non-restrictive license. That way, people can post things to YouTube if they want, or anywhere else, for that matter. I think it’s less work for CTN in the long run, since we’ll be able to respond to our own requests.

       —Matt Hampel (MattH)    Jul. 28 '09 - 07:49AM    #
  10. That’s actually what I meant. Poor choice of words. I should have said, would you like CTN to make available the commission footage ina format that you then would be free to post to YouTube, Google, etc.?

    Apparently you would.

    Of course, we might end up with something like this…

       —Jeff Meyers    Jul. 28 '09 - 09:24AM    #
  11. The skills to capture online streaming video are already part of the repertoire of most satirists. It’s a core tool.

    I could get the video as it exists right now — but it’s difficult, and I think that discourages more mainstream uses.

    In any case, I definitely think Council is ripe for some more of the Ann Arbor Newshawks. Satire should be an expected part of any open process.

       —Matt Hampel    Jul. 28 '09 - 06:59PM    #
  12. I actually love satire and the more that’s locally generated the better IMO. Not a big fan of the Newshawks but that’s because I’m a comedy snob.

    Beyond the jokes, however, I think any tool that allows local citizens more discourse and access to information is a good one.

       —Jeff Meyers    Jul. 28 '09 - 07:36PM    #
  13. “Of course, we might end up with something like this…”

    My goodness.

       —Bruce Fields    Jul. 28 '09 - 07:57PM    #
  14. A year or two ago when CNT management was explaining to the Commission why it was impossible to post meetings on Google I posted one of the CTN Commission meetings on Google and embeded it into a blog. I provided a detailed explanation to some or all members of the Commission of the methods and software I used.

    Google and Utube have since changed their hosting policies. Google no longer accepts new videos and Utube limits new uploads to 10 minutes, so a special arrangement with one of these would have to be made or a different hosting site selected. Still, these are rather minor technical and cost issues.

    Anyone with a home computer, tuner card and basic cable can capture mpegs of the meetings. While you cannot upload the entire meeting to Utube you can post segments. There are some examples here:

    You can also capture the Peg Central streams but it is more work and the quality is lower. The fourth video on this page;
    (the one with the small image) is an example

    In my opinion the fundamental problem at CTN is that they have refused to use the common computer in their video production. They continue to spend more than necessary for “professional” dedicated equipment. This is more difficult to use, or at least requires greater learning time, so it is more difficult to get volunteer support. Also, most of us will never buy the equipment CTN uses so learning to use it is of limited value. This limits their ability to get and retain volunteers.

    CTN management has refused to cross the digital divide. The Leightronic/PegCentral equipment and web hosting is an example. Matt Hampel’s paper is a good discussion of the problems of CTN.

       —Glenn Thompson    Jul. 28 '09 - 10:35PM    #
  15. Council may not be ready (or ripe) for more Newshawks, but I am. Is there a subscription plan available?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Jul. 29 '09 - 05:02AM    #
  16. Before I left Ann Arbor a few years ago, I made attempts to contact CDN to ask not for them to put their videos online but rather to give me the clearance to record broadcast video, encode it & publish it to, which allows (allowed?) free publishing of video in the public domain (or freely licensed); and I received the equivalent of a blank stare email response. I left town so never pressed the matter, but always thought this would be a good idea.

       —Scott Trudeau    Jul. 31 '09 - 06:26AM    #
  17. Scott, you ran in the Fourth Ward against Marcia Higgins in 2003. How do you feel she had performed as amember of the Cable Commission?

    Do you have any other observations about that election or your reasons for running?

       —Mark Koroi    Jul. 31 '09 - 06:42AM    #