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Media Watch

Cable Bill Burned

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A sweetheart bill for the cable-television industry died in a last-minute ambush on the state House floor April 12, gunned down by a lobbying effort from municipalities and public-access devotees.

House Bill 2563, as the corpse was known, was a strange creature sent out by cable TV providers with an interesting purpose. It was depicted as "good for consumers" because it would have lowered your cable bills a little, by reducing the franchise fees they collect from you each month and pay to local governments.

But cash-strapped cities and towns didn't like that, and their lobbyists went forth to save the coffers. Legislative analysts estimated that Tucson would have started feeling the pinch in fiscal 2008, with a $940,000 drop in cable-franchise revenue. The revenue loss would have grown to $1.5 million in fiscal 2009 and 2010, then increase by about 3 percent annually.

As noted previously in this space, the bill would have allowed counties, cities and towns to require cable operators to provide only two free channels for public, educational and government use. If a municipality wanted more, it would have to find a way to pay market value for them--a cost legislative analysts estimated at about $250,000 per channel. Cox Communications' present Tucson lineup includes eight PEG channels.

(Another scary part of the bill allowed cities, towns and counties to authorize advertising on government channels, which raises the truly ugly specter of some city clerk some day announcing that "La Bandera Flag Supply is the proud sponsor of tonight's Pledge of Allegiance." Or worse.

Almost unnoticed in the flap over revenue worries and pinched public-access opportunities was the cable TV industry's real wish--an artificially leveled playing field to compete with satellite TV providers, who don't pay franchise fees. The measure may be dead for now--but you can bet this battle will come back again next year.


OUT WITH THE OLD

KJLL general manager Jerry Misner is shopping for a new transmitter at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas this week.

It's time, he says, for the current transmitter to retire, especially in the wake of the station going off the air for varying periods recently.

Misner said the new transmitter will mean a cleaner signal during the day. But it won't change the problem with signal loss over the northwest part of Tucson at sundown.

Like all AM radio stations, KJLL switches from a non-directional to a directional signal between sundown and sunrise to avoid interfering with other AM stations, which means they reduce their signal to the northwest.

(There's a whole lot of technical stuff regarding the atmospheric signal skip at night. If you're old enough to remember when Top 40 AM stations KTKT and KIKX were rockin' the Pueblo, you probably used that signal skip occasionally to tap in to Oklahoma City's legendary KOMA.)

KJLL survived its recent spate of transmitter problems with a little help from its friends. Arizona Lotus provided engineering assistance, while Citadel Broadcasting loaned the station a spare part to replace what had burned out.

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