Town of Hudson cancels River Channel broadcasts; fee hikes, tight budgets blamed
By Chuck Nowlen
Hard-pressed budgets and dwindling revenue options have prompted the town of Hudson to pull the plug on community-access River Channel programming.
Cable channels 15 and 6 featuring everything from Hudson and North Hudson school-district and municipal meetings to high school sports, county board sessions and community events have been dark in the town since mid-December, Town Board Chair Jeff Johnson confirmed last week.
That followed a board decision in September to cancel a River Channel funding agreement between the town and the Hudson Community Access Board, which oversees local-access broadcasts and budgets.
River Channel programming continues unchanged for city and North Hudson cable viewers.
“It’s not something we necessarily wanted to do, but it is what it is,” Johnson, an early supporter of town River Channel broadcasting, said of the cancelation.
“In the beginning, the fees we paid for the River Channel didn’t amount to a real lot, but as the system grew, those fees really went up. Plus, because of state levy limits and a few other things, we don’t have a lot of options we once had anymore where revenue is concerned. Meanwhile, we’re struggling to find enough money for things like keeping the streets plowed.”
The fee breakdown
In 2008, the town’s cable fees totaled more than $12,300, plus a one-time charge of more than $3,200 for equipment, etc. to get the local community-access TV system up and running, according to figures from the town Treasurer’s Office. By last year, however, the town’s cable-fees total had nearly doubled to $23,003.34, the figures showed.
Both yearly totals include a 2 percent cable franchise fee and a 50-cents-per-subscriber Public, Education and Government (PEG) fee.
The fees are assessed by Baldwin Telecom Inc. for town cable viewers and by Comcast for city and North Hudson subscribers.
Johnson said the town had floated the idea of giving the Community Access Board only PEG fees this year if the town’s River Channel service would remain. Those fees totaled $7,112.17 in 2013, compared to $3,278.07 in 2008. But the town could not work out a deal by decision time on the town-city agreement and had to move forward, Johnson said.
The town also paid $15,891.52 in franchise fees last year, up from $8,953.92 in 2008. Franchise fees are derived as a percentage of a cable company’s profits and do not involve tax money.
Johnson noted that town of Hudson meetings and activities are rarely, if ever, included in River Channel broadcasts and that local viewers can still find community-access programming online.
“So a couple of our board members started saying, ‘Hey, that’s a lot of money we’re giving away, and how many town people really care about what’s on the local-access channel they’re getting, anyway?” he said.
To date, the cancelation has not exactly kept Johnson’s phone ringing off the hook.
“I’ve gotten one call so far, and I saw one letter to the editor in the paper, but that’s it,” he explained.
“Usually, when something the board does is somewhat controversial, I’ll get a lot more calls than I’ve gotten so far. The board didn’t take this decision lightly. There’s been a lot of discussion, dating back to a year ago. Everybody seems to have to make tough decisions these days, and we’re doing the best we can with limited resources.”
No formal request received
Hudson Cable Access Manager Nate Skoog countered Johnson’s complaint tally, saying he’s received “quite a few calls” from people wondering what happened to the River Channel in and around the town of Hudson.
“Most town residents I‘ve spoken to did not know the issue was up for discussion, and the town doesn’t publish their agendas online,” Skoog said. “So, when people call, I just have to tell them, ‘I’d like to show you Hudson Raiders football and all the rest, but I can’t. It’s up to you to contact your elected representatives about it.’”
Skoog added: “The River Channel’s budget comes from franchise fees, and after years of negotiating with the cable companies, the Community Access Board entered into an agreement with the town of Hudson. But this agreement was canceled, and the only communication the board received from the town of Hudson in 2013 was for cancelation. In 2013, no request for a reduction of fees was received.”
Johnson insisted, however, that a Baldwin Telecom representative attended a Dec. 10 Community Access Board meeting on behalf of the Town Board to explore fee renegotiations, but the representative was not allowed to make any proposals.
The town and Baldwin Telecom will continue to explore renegotiation options, as well as a local cable-subscriber survey that includes the River Channel issue, Johnson added.
Figures on the number of cable subscribers in Hudson, the town of Hudson and North Hudson were unavailable as of this week’s press time. According to U.S. Census figures, the city of Hudson’s population was 12,719 in 2010. The town of Hudson’s was 8,461, and North Hudson’s was 3,768.