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City & Cox negotiate public access plan in secret

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Guest opinion

City & Cox negotiate public access plan in secret

  • Dylan Smith/

On September 7, the Tucson City Council is scheduled to make a decision that may bring in over $20 million of revenue through 2022. If you are a Cox Cable subscriber, that revenue will come from you. But you are not allowed to decide where that money goes or how it's used by the city.

That's the little secret between cities and cable providers in Arizona these days. As a result of recent changes in state law (at Cox's behest), municipal governments are boxed in when it comes to requiring cable providers to meet certain community standards and needs.

In Tucson, this means that after June, 2012, the city and Cox are proposing to cut current Access Tucson channels 98 and 99 from the basic tier. Furthermore, for residents who do not subscribe to the higher-priced digital tier (about 25% of customers), the only community-related programming available to them may be the City's own public information Channel 12 and TUSD's underused Channel 20. Access Tucson may be relegated to the digital tier, meaning that 25 percent of Cox's subscribers would be unable to view its programs.

And, you know that $1.38 "PEG Cable Fee" that shows up on your Cox bill every month? You have a reasonable expectation that those funds are going to support the P (public), E (education) and G (government) channels? Easy call, right?

Do you want more media focused on local issues, or do you want more programming devoted to spoiled kids on the Jersey Shore?

The truth is that those dollars are collected by Cox and sent directly to the city's general fund. From there, the city can use those dollars as it sees fit—to fix roads, pay salaries, trim trees, upgrade its computer systems, etc. In the agreement between Cox and the city, there's no requirement that the $1.38 go to the services that are actually printed on the Cox bill.

Yes, under the law, it's all legal. But at the same time, the city has severely reduced its funding to the public portion of PEG organizations by cutting its allocation to Access Tucson by nearly 75 percent over the past 2 years.

At a time when traditional media are among the most mistrusted forms of communication, and at a time when international super monopolies like Rupert Murdoch's are crumbling under the weight of their own deceit, we should be promoting the truth through local media sharing—unfettered by government control or intrigue.

On September 7, the Tucson City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss the upcoming agreement with Cox. There has been no public discussion of this issue despite the fact that the city and Cox began their negotiations over two years ago.

There's been no audit of Cox's payments to the city over the past 5 years; there has been no needs assessment conducted to learn what the citizens of Tucson want from their cable provider. These two facts alone make it imperative that the Council postpone the agreement until these issues have been addressed.

Whether you are a Cox subscriber or not, you should expect transparency and accountability from your city leaders. As a citizen, you own the public rights-of-way—not Cox, not Comcast, not Verizon, not AT&T. Do you want more media focused on local issues, or do you want more programming devoted to spoiled kids on the Jersey Shore?

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