CITIZEN’S VIEW: The Case for a City PEG Channel

Special to the NEWS

Jose F. Rodriguez

Jose F. Rodriguez

As I was out campaigning during the last municipal election and just attempting to encourage more citizen attendance/participation at the City Commission meetings, the most common citizen complaint, besides when is my street going to be fixed, was the lack of communication between the City and its’ citizens. When I mentioned that the city has a new website, the most common complaint of the new city website was the “accessibility of information.” They did not want to go two or three clicks deep into the website to find the information. Unfortunately, I tend to agree with them. User testing was limited to within the web developers and the city staff. Although I offered to the Public Relations Department, I personally was unable to user-test the new website until the website was published.

When pressured as to why citizens did not attend City Commissions where most of the city business is conducted, the number one reason cited was the “lack of time” and “they (the Commission) don’t listen and don’t care.” It is true that families with school children and/or work just don’t have enough ‘hours in the day” to accomplish all their daily tasks. Attending a City Commission meeting, which sometimes can last for hours, is just not an option.

Now the opportunity to “remedy this problem,” a PEG Channel, has been presented by the Library Director to the City Commission for adoption in the next Fiscal Year 2014-15 General Fund Budget. However, based on my perceptions at the budget workshops, comments and objections by the City Commission, adoption of this proposal faces an “uphill battle.”

What is a PEG Channel? PEG is the acronym for “Public, Educational, and Governmental” Access Channel. Per the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Pursuant to Section 611 of the Communications Act, local franchising authorities (i.e. the City of San Benito) may require cable operators (Time Warner Cable) to set aside channels for public, educational, or governmental (PEG) use. PEG channels are not mandated by federal law but rather they are a right given to the franchising authority (City of San Benito) which may choose to exercise it. PEG channels are typically noncommercial in that there are no commercial advertising spots and there are typically no so-called “infomercials” run on PEG channels.

Fortunately for the citizens of San Benito and through the city’s initiative and a franchise agreement between the City of San Benito and Time Warner Cable (TWC), the city has the opportunity and capital funds to create its own PEG channel. Time Warner Cable (TWC) has agreed to fund the Capital Funding of the hardware required for full operation of the PEG channel through fees collected from their subscribers on their monthly cable bill. As of today and per the City Finance Department, the total fund balance or fees collected is $64,588.49 for the PEG Channel hardware. These funds are “reserved” for use ONLY for the PEG channel hardware. The funds shall not be used for other city funding or staffing.

Why does the city need a PEG Channel? PEG channels are meant to allow an electronic dialogue between the City and its citizens. A PEG channel will expand the ability of community residents to become more active participants in government and educational meetings by cablecasting City Commission meetings, much like the SBCISD board meetings. The availability of the PEG channel means that those who could not participate “live” may be able to participate by watching a rebroadcast of a particular event. From a community standpoint, the issue is not “will this attract the same number of viewers that watch HBO or other cable show,” but is instead “will this allow members of the community to work together more effectively.”

Who will have access to the city PEG channel? Initially only all Time Warner Cable subscribers will have access. However, any videos or presentation will be available for upload to the internet for public viewing. Per data provided to the City by Time Warner Cable (TWC) and census information available from the U.S. Census web page, the City of San Benito has an average of 3,876 TWC subscribers per month which equates to 12,791 available PEG Channel viewers based on 7,162 total households with 3.3 persons per household. That is 52 percent of the total 24,253 population reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Once implemented, the PEG Channel will broadcast important, pertinent information from each City department. Each department will have a dedicated segment allowing each department to broadcast information they deem important based on customer input or questions. An example is the current city promotion to advise the community of the schedule change for trash collection. Also, the City Commission will be provided the opportunity to provide a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to the general public as a Commission or as an individual City Commissioner.

My personal opinion is that the City of San Benito producing a PEG Channel is an excellent opportunity for the City to establish a “visual communication” between the City and the citizens. Reading the “meeting minutes” of a City Commission meeting on the city website is just a “summary of the meeting.” It does not show the actual discussion conducted by the City Commission nor the pros or cons meriting the approval or denial of an agenda item. The PEG Channel will provide citizens an opportunity to become involved from the comfort of their home and it is “the next best thing to being there.” If the members of the City Commission truly mean it when they espouse that they “represent all the citizens of San Benito,” there is no valid reason why the PEG Channel should not be implemented.

The capital funds are available for the hardware and the infrastructure (i.e. fiber optics connections) is in place. The citizens are all for a PEG channel. Now it is just up to the City Commissioners to approve it. Mayor Celeste Sanchez has thrown her full support behind the proposal presented by the library director.

The next budget meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday Sept. 8, 2014.

Joe F. Rodriguez (the city does not have the proposal on the city web site; so I created a brief page for your perusal)

Editor’s Note: Jose F. Rodriguez is a resident of San Benito and a former budget consultant and computer, mainframe, systems and pricing analyst.


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    • Tell it Like it Is on September 9, 2014 at 9:20 am
    • Reply

    Of course they are adamantly opposed to the idea of the City Commission meetings being live streamed or taped!! Why?? Do you really think they want the public to see their bullying tactics and unprofessional behavior? At every meeting, Villafranco is either eating or giggling and tittering with his friend Lupita; JD Gonzalez is a bully. He interrupts everyone and rambles on about how much he knows about everything.. Penny is always whispering with JD making sure he is voting the right way. God help the Mayor!

  1. #And that is the truth…

    Thank you for the historical perspective. I certainly like the “Purpose” and “Programming Possibilities” of a PEG Channel that you outlined. I may incorporate them in a later commentary.

    Unfortunately for the citizens of San Benito, the triumvirate that is composed of Commissioners JD Gonzalez, JD Penny, and Rene Villafranco, who were OPPOSED to the idea of a PEG Channel from the very beginning back in March, have succeeded to remove the PEG Channel proposal from the Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2014-15, even after the budget was already balanced with the savings generated with the elimination of one of the Assistant City Manager positions due to Mr. Jalomo’s retirement.

    In my humble opinion and as one experienced in Information Technology, the Commissioner’s rationale for denial were not valid at all; they were more “excuses” than “rationale“. However, I will reserve some comments until a later time when I can go into more detail.

    If approval had been granted and once the hardware was purchased and installed, the “live streaming” of the City Commission meetings or any other city meeting would have commenced immediately to ANYBODY with ACCESS to the INTERNET, not necessarily cable subscriber. All a citizen would warrant or require is internet access via any access media available.

    Bottom line, they are adamantly opposed to the idea of the City Commission meetings being live streamed or taped.

    Still stuck in the 1990’s!!

    Resaca City

    • And that is the truth ... on September 8, 2014 at 3:35 pm
    • Reply

    Just for some historical perspective, Mr, Rodriguez …Back in the 1990’s a group of SB citizens got behind the idea of having a PEG Channel, (when the late Chuck Weekly was Mayor). When presented to the City, unfortunately their proposals pretty much fell on deaf ears as the City Commission didn’t have enough on the ball to do something positive for the City; (although the SBCISD was a little smarter and their channel did come out of the citizens’s efforts).
    Another interesting fact the citizen group pointed out to city commission of the day: “The internet will change the way America does commerce in 10 years or less.” The unanimous response by the City Commission was: “What is the internet?” Nuf said.

    But alas, those were the days when cable was king. Now more and more people are ‘cutting the cable’ and are going to a dish device, Apple TV and ROKU or some other means to get their news and entertainment.
    So 20 or so years later, unfortunately a PEG channel now almost seems irrelevant or passé.

    For your consideration:

    Purpose of a PEG Channel:
    * To provide a convenient and information-rich resource for residents, visitors, businesses, non-profit organizations, other public agencies, and schools to access their city government.
    * To make public proceedings and events more accessible to City residents by providing footage of City Council, Planning Commission, and other local government meetings.
    * To provide more extensive information on important City issues and activities.
    * To employ the technology to improve customer service and communication relating to issues of interest to City residents.
    * To contribute to the improvement of City services, foster economic development, and enhance the sense of community within the City.
    * To act as a source of information during local emergencies.

    Programming possibilities for the channel could be endless:

    * Emergency programming involving public health, safety, or welfare of residents.
    * Programming of or about meetings of local legislative and policy-making bodies, including the City Commission, Economic Development Agency, and others.
    * Programming of City departments and their services.
    * Programming of local and regional government boards, commissions and/or agencies.
    * Programming of and activities of interest to the community, including announcements about services or activities offered by non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations, including: assisting persons in locating programs or social services such as housing, housing discrimination assistance, or home ownership; assist people in finding employment or training opportunities; healthcare, and other human and social services; provide information or access to the arts, humanities, culture or education; improve neighborhoods; provide information or resources for neighborhood revitalization, code enforcement and/or crime prevention; enhance business development and economic development opportunities locally and regionally.
    * Programming to assist individuals relocating to the City.

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