By JOSE F. RODRIGUEZ
Special to the NEWS
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
http://sbpegchannel.blogspot.com/ (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.