unedited dec. 08 tahoe mt. news story
By Kathryn Reed
A firestorm is brewing in South Lake and El Dorado County regarding Charter Communications’ desire to toss California channels and replace them with Nevada ones.
Charter officials will be back before the City Council on Jan. 6. City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell, who has worked in the business, is the city’s liaison as negotiations take place this month to devise a compromise.
At issue is whether Charter subscribers on the California side of the South Shore will have access to KCRA, the NBC affiliate in Sacramento, and KGO, the ABC channel from San Francisco.
Vocal locals want California news, not just Reno. Reno stations don’t delve into issues like California’s scary budget debacle, Southern California wildfires and potential mudslides, or if Dungeness crab will be available for holiday dinners.
When it comes to road closures, Reno stations focus on Interstate 80, not Highway 50 – the South Shore’s lifeline.
During the Angora Fire of 2007, TV news stations in California had more continuous coverage than their Reno counterparts.
A bit of history
“If the state and federal government would stay out of our business and quit listing to the paid AT&T lobbyists, we would get what we needed,” City Manager Dave Jinkens said.
Part of the problem is the Federal Communications Commission has sided with advertisers. The South Shore belongs to Reno, according to the FCC. That’s why Reno stations are the norm here with cable and satellite providers.
Another part of the problem is California changed the law a couple years ago to open cable service to telephone companies. South Lake Tahoe officials along with the League of California Cities unsuccessfully fought the legislation.
Cable franchises used to be handled by the city or county the customer resides in. South Lake Tahoe’s franchise agreement with Charter expires in 2010. Charter’s fees in fiscal year 2007-08 were $318,811 and $304,825 in 2006-07. When the agreement expires, the state Public Utilities Commission takes over and the city’s coffers will be hit and customers could have even less of a say about programming and service.
The state handles the county agreement with Charter. El Dorado gets a 5 percent franchise fee or about $90,000 a year. The FCC sets the fee, not the state or county.
The county is fighting the KCRA-KGO issue by taking it to the state as a safety issue. County Supervisor Norma Santiago said she is working with the state controller’s office as well as the Office of Emergency Services.
Although Charter officials say they have received only a handful of calls and letters from irate customers, they were handed a petition Nov. 18 with hundreds of signatures from people wanting to keep the status quo.
It was standing room as Charter’s John Figueroa and George Jostlin, local operations manager and direct of government affairs, respectively, spoke to the council.
A KCRA camera guy was filming the proceeding. Stefan Hadl, KCRA’s director of engineering, briefly spoke.
“Technically they don’t have to change the system,” Hadl told the council. “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. I think we all need to work together.”
Elliott Troshinsky, president and general manager of KCRA, wrote a letter to former Mayor Judy Brown in response to an inquiry from her that was submitted into the record. In part it says, “We also believe that their reason to discontinue carriage is disingenuous at best, since they have been receiving an adequate signal from us for many years and have had the ability and desire to broadcast our signal to you and other Charter customers in your area.”
The masses were heard, at least temporarily. The Dec. 2 blackout date for KCRA and KGO was extended until Charter addresses the council next month.
“My hope is that we will have worked together with KCRA to find a way to maintain providing their 5.5 hours of news programming a day that they produce,” Jostlin told the Tahoe Mountain News.
He and Charter’s general manager met Dec. 1 with KCRA officials.
Even though it may be possible to keep KCRA online for news broadcasts, Jostlin wouldn’t commit to the station being accessible in an emergency unless the emergency alert system is tripped. It never was during the Angora Fire and it’s not guaranteed to be if a major earthquake hits San Francisco or a mudslide closes Highway 50.
He is working with only KCRA because he said more people talk about the need for the Sacramento station. This is the tactic even though only a fraction of Charter’s nearly 12,000 customers on the east side of El Dorado County, which includes the city, have voiced an opinion.
The city’s website -- http://www.cityofslt.us/pdf/charternovember2008.pdf -- has information about who can be contacted about this issue.