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Holyoke Mayor seeks public access TV studio

Date: 10/31/2012

By Carley Dangona

HOLYOKE — Mayor Alex Morse conducted a public hearing on Oct. 25, regarding the performance of Comcast and the possibility of creating a public access station for the community.

Currently, the city only receives 1.5 percent of the gross annual revenue from Comcast — it could earn as much as 5 percent — and it has no public access channel available to residents.

"Holyoke deserves everything that every other community received. In the past, we didn't do all we could to negotiate the best contract," Morse said.

The city's contract with Comcast expires on Oct. 27, 2013. Morse provided the "ascertainment hearing" so residents could voice concerns about the service and offer ideas of improvement. He added that the city had no authority regarding the rate charges or program selections Comcast offers.

Morse also noted that the city has hired Epstein & August LLP, a firm specializing in cable TV contracts, to negotiate on behalf of Holyoke since the past two city solicitors involved in such dealings became employees of Comcast.

"That's one of the biggest things I'm looking for in this process a community station downtown that's open to the public," Morse said. "Right now we have a studio at the high school, but it's not accessible after hours, so it's not a true public access station. We're not really educating or involving our residents in the process and that's important to me [to incorporate the entire community']."

He added, "I would also like to have — like Amherst and Northampton — a Holyoke community media organization that's private from the city and not governed by the mayor's office."

Resident Jennifer Myszkowski favored the idea of a local channel. "It's an incredible resource," she said. "I want everyone to have access and share their stories."

Sandy Board, a resident who previously lived in California, noted, "We don't seem to have that [public] access here."

Vitek Kruta, resident and co-director of Gateway City Arts, shared an anecdote about his eldest son, now a filmmaker, whose early exposure to film and basic skills were a direct result of the time spent at a public access channel growing up.

Kruta added, "A public access station is an opportunity for artists to express themselves."

Other residents gave testimony supporting the formation of a public access channel for Holyoke, stating that it would inspire creativity and learning.

Jim Lescault, executive director of Amherst Media, said the community needed an avenue for broadcasting. "I cannot express enough to you how many organizations from Holyoke come up to use our station," he stated.

Morse outlined the city's plans. "We'll be establishing a board of directors over the next 12 months, establishing that 501(c)(3) [organization] and really pushing to increase the percentage of gross annual revenues, so that we will get money back to support a staff that works at the station," he explained.

The city plans to conduct at least two more hearings in addition to distributing a survey to ensure all residents have an opportunity to voice their opinions.