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City’s public access channels now in ‘Siberia’ – if you can get them at all

Where did the City of Buffalo’s public access channel go?

It’s in "Siberia" along with other public programming, say Buffalo Common Council members.

The city’s Public, Educational and Governmental access programs are no longer on channels 19, 20, 21 and 22, said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana.

Instead, Spectrum cable company moved them "in the cloak of secrecy" to channels 1301, 1302, 1303 and 1304 following a public hearing in April for Spectrum to talk about cable rate increases, Fontana said.

What’s more, some cable subscribers can’t access PEG channels at all anymore, even though they are paying for them, say the Council members and Art Robinson, president of the Seneca Babcock Block Club.

Andrew D. Russell, a communications director for Charter Communications – Spectrum’s parent company – said by email that Buffalo’s PEG channels are now grouped in the low 1300s. All customers should have access to the channels, Russell said, but "if there is an issue ... with a specific customer, they should get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to check it out and resolve it."

But Robinson says residents have complained at block club meetings that they cannot access the 1300s. He said he is thinking about rallying residents to demonstrate with signs at Spectrum’s office at Chicago and Exchange streets.

"I know people who can’t get (PEG channels) anymore," Robinson said. "People are very upset they can’t access (PEG channels) or just don’t know where (Spectrum) put them."

Many senior citizens turn to the PEG channels to keep informed of what’s going on in the city, especially seniors who do not get out much, Robinson said.

"They rely so much on (PEG channels) for information, and (Spectrum) has cut them off at the knees," Robinson said.

The channels broadcast a variety of public informational programming, from Common Council meetings and Council committee meetings to Buffalo School Board meetings. Some churches also air their services on the channels.

The Council passed a resolution earlier this week asking Charter Spectrum to return the public access programming to the stations on which they formerly aired. And if the cable company is not willing to do that, cable representatives will be asked to come before the Council to explain why.

Council members also want to know why some cable subscribers can no longer access the PEG channels even though they are paying for them.

University Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt says Spectrum has done a "disservice" to the community.

"All subscribers in the city, whether or not they have a box, are paying for PEG access," he said. "And now they’re paying a fee and not getting a service."

"I think this is taking away the peoples’ rights to see what they’re paying for. They pay for PEG access," Fontana said, adding that Spectrum has replaced the city’s public access channel with a cooking show.

"Another cooking show is not needed," he said. "What people would like to see and they’re asking us for are the government channels back on those (original) channels."
"They have taken… essentially the government channels and educational channels and now moved us to what I call Siberia," Fontana said.

The city has an expired franchise agreement with the cable company that needs to be updated and renegotiated, said Fontana and Council President Darius G. Pridgen.

The Council can’t legally do anything about the relocation of the channels, but it can file a complaint with the Public Service Commission, Fontana said.

However, he added, it might be a different story if the channels are not accessible to some cable customers.

"It could be the case that we could bring legal action," Fontana said.

As for the "cloak of secrecy" claim and the timing, Russell responded, "That is absolutely not the case. We notified the city well in advance of the change, which occurred during our recent digital conversion in Buffalo. We also collaborated with the mayor and the local access channel on a public service announcement to alert viewers of the move."

But Council members said it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the channels were switched not long after the April public meeting where they complained about Spectrum’s prices.

"It’s awful odd to me that on the night that we invited them into these chambers to talk about the prices of cable that we got sent to Siberia… I don’t know why after all of these years," Pridgen said. "All of a sudden when we are advocating for citizens… and saying that the cable is too high… they kicked us far. However, what they still continue to do is get $150 to $180 a month from our citizens."

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