City public access cable channel plan gets reprieve

NASHUA – A resolution to create a public access cable television channel Monday failed to make it through discussions of the aldermen’s budget review committee.

Although the legislation wasn’t passed, it survived a committee member’s attempt to recommend indefinite postponement.

Another member now plans to ask the Board of Aldermen to vote on the resolution at its next meeting without a recommendation.

A handful of residents spoke in favor of creating the public access station, which is the missing leg in the city’s franchise agreement with Comcast Cable Co. for PEG, public, educational and government channels.

Federal law requires cable television companies to fund local PEG channels. The intent of public channels is to give citizens the opportunity to produce their own programs. Cooking and fishing shows, as well as political commentary, are examples of public channel topics.

Nashua now has two of the three legs: Channel 16, for local government information, including public meetings, and Channel 99 for education.

However, the money for public programming until now was added to the city’s general fund to help reduce the tax rate.

That money amounts to about $106,000, said Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, one of the principal sponsors of the resolution to create the channel. Some of that money would pay the salary and benefits of someone to manage the station, he said.

“This is a small amount of money to dig up in a $260 million budget,” Alderman-at-Large David Deane said. “I don’t think there are going to be supreme sacrifices made by anyone.”

Deane said he’ll ask the full Board of Aldermen to vote on the resolution at its meeting Tuesday.

Alderman-at-Large Lori Wilshire asked why the issue came through a resolution and not through a line in the mayor’s budget.

“The issue for me isn’t about the money. It’s about the policy,” said Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, another principal sponsor of the legislation.

Whether to create a public station should be a policy decision of the board and not just put in the budget as a line item, Lozeau said.

Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons described funding public television as a Catch-22 because it meant the money would have to be taken from another worthwhile account.

When Clemons pressed Lozeau about where the money might come from, she responded, “I can tell you, I don’t have this spare money sitting around and looking for a home.”

Teeboom said the time is perfect to start a station because Nashua has created a studio for local cable programming. The cost to the average city taxpayer would be a little more than 6 cents a week, he said.

Funding the station was one issue raised by aldermen in opposition. The second and perhaps bigger issue was concern about content, namely that political opponents would seize the opportunity to air programs bashing elected officials.

“I have a real hard time spending taxpayers’ money for a soapbox,” said Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko, who unsuccessfully pushed to have the budget committee vote for indefinite postponement.

George Russell, a talk show host on WSMN 1590, had addressed concerns about political comment during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

“If it’s managed properly and the bylaws are laid out properly, it wouldn’t be used for that,” Russell said.

Other speakers said the public channel would allow city residents to be featured, air content on the city’s history, provide programs of interest to children and serve other useful purposes.

Paul Johnson of the cable television advisory board said all other major communities in the state have public channels, including Manchester and Nashua’s neighbors Hudson, Merrimack and Amherst, Johnson said.

“Why doesn’t Nashua have it? I’ve never understood that,” Johnson said.

Added former state Rep. Barbara Pressly, “I hope this is the year we allow this to happen. If you don’t do it now, maybe television will be obsolete” before a public channel is approved, she said.