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Mayors meet with federal leaders to promote local projects, cable television issues

Changes in cable subscriber fee uses wold help TV30

Mayors and a vice-mayor from four Tri-Valley cities were in Washington, D.C. last week to discuss local issues where federal funding might be available.

Mayors Jerry Thorne of Pleasanton, Danville's Mayor Robert Storer, Dublin's Vice Mayor Don Biddle and Livermore Mayor John Marchand congessional leaders and federal agency staffs during their visit.

Their efforts included seeking or enhancing federal funding for highway and local roadway projects, emergency communications systems and other projects where federal funds along with state and local matching funds are involved.

Key among the discussions, especially for Thorne, Biddle and Marchand, whose city leaders also make up the board of directors of Tri-Valley Community Television, was to press for federal support of efforts to allow cable television system fees to be used as needed for TV30.

The mayors along with TV30 Executive Director Melissa Tench-Stevens want rules changed to allow those fees to be used for operating expenses, a change that would be especially helpful to TV30, where operating costs and programming far exceed the need for new equipment.

Historically, operating and capital funding for Tri-Valley Community Television (TVCTV) had been provided by PEG funds collected from viewers through their Comcast and AT&T subscriptions. But in 2012, a new State Assembly bill called DIVCA stripped operating costs from the funding. The three cities have been making up the difference ever since.

In the current fiscal year, Pleasanton taxpayers are contributing $140,300 along with subsidies from Dublin and Livermore to help TV30 meet operating expenses.

If the 1% in fees collected by the cable systems could be used as needed with no spending restrictions, much if not all of those city subsidies could be ended.

TVCTV has been broadcasting since 1976. It now broadcasts seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to a population well over 300,000 people who have access to its signal locally. Today, the system's broadcast channels 28 (education), 29 (government meetings) and 30 (diversified programs of interest to the Tri-Valley) can be seen on any computer or mobile device, with video-on-demand also available at the station's website, www.tv30.org.

Although TV30 does not receive A.C. Nielsen rating results, between Jan. 1, 2013 and this past Jan. 31, the station had more than 266,000 views on its website. The system's coverage of City Council and school board meetings in the three Tri-Valley cities has brought increasingly wide acclaim from viewers. Former Pleasanton Mayor Tom Pico used to talk about phone calls and messages he received after council meetings from many who didn't live here but regularly watched those broadcasts.

Tench-Stevens wants to boost the system's outreach and programming. Her staff regularly produces a minimum of 30 original local programs a month. TV30's sportscasters covered football and basketball games at Amador Valley, Dublin, Foothill, Granada and Livermore high schools and this year will be producing numerous election specials, all at substantial operating costs. This programming is not available anywhere else. That's why freeing up the 1% of cable subscriber fee revenue is so important to the continued growth of TVCTV.

Since the 1% fee, which brings in more revenue than the old 50-cent fee once charged by cable subscribers to support community television systems, is so vital to sustain these quasi-public operations across the country, religious groups that also operate these types of stations have joined in freeing up the funds. Catholic bishops, Baptists in the south, Mormons and others are backing revenue-distribution changes because many of the ways they speak to their constituents is through public access television.

The hope is that with the mayors petitions on Capitol Hill this week that Washington legislators and eventually those in Sacramento will modify the PEG ruling to allow unrestricted use of those funds.

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