Bright House realignment riles City Council
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09/27/07 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

A representative from Bright House Networks received a somewhat combative reaction at today’s Tampa City Council meeting in response to a proposal by the cable service that could potentially decrease viewership of the Council meetings.

Come December, analog subscribers in the Tampa bay area will lose the PEG channels. And for the majority of viewers watching on digital cable, those channels – representing Public access, Education and the Government - will move from its current spot in the lowest channel number slot to a much higher slot.

Carlos Del Castillo, with Bright House, says the move is in response to customers wanting uniformity on the dial throughout the bay area.

Del Castillo says currently about 30 percent of Bright House's customers still have analog cable programming. If they don’t want to switch to digital, but do want to still have access to the PEG channels, Bright House will allow them to rent a converter box for a dollar a month, a discount from the normal rate.

But Mayor Pam Iorio's administration is not happy with this move.

City Attorney Sal Territo said Bright House is in effect, creating a separate tier of customers.

City Councilman Thomas Scott asked how many seniors in the area would be affected by the loss of the PEG channels.

Del Castillo said he had no idea, but he said the federal government has allocated $200 million to be distributed in 2009, when all televisions must go digital.

Nobody appeared more animated about the PEG channels going digital than City Councilman John Dingfelder, who said the whole idea seemed to pop out of nowhere.

Dingfelder said that many citizens generally don’t watch all the City Council meetings live or on their frequent repeats on local Channel 15. But he says they frequently will be flipping their remote, moving from the Fox affiliate, channel 14 in Tampa, and then come upon the meetings for 5 or 10 minutes.

Dingfelder says those stray "surfers" will never have that same opportunity, if the city of Tampa television station is located on digital cable systems around the 600 channel mark.

City Councilman Charlie Miranda said the debate needed to continue, but cautiously, with litigation potentially pending. Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said she was troubled by the Bright House proposal.

Mindy Snyder, the city of Tampa’s Cable Television Manager, said a survey was taken independently back in April, and it showed that many people did come across the Tampa Government Channel – also known as CCTV - simply by switching channels.

The Digital transition on the PEG channels is scheduled to take effect on Dec. 11.

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