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Feature Stories

Public Access Is About to Go Public

From Issue: Volume XX - Number 23

By Steve Propes

Considering Long Beach is the biggest U.S. city without a broadcast TV station, the loss of public access through state legislation in early 2009 was a well-lamented loss of a unique local outlet. And with it went a fair amount of individualistic and quirky local programming such as assorted Bible thumpers, champions of green causes, wanna-be warblers and political hopefuls spouting off about all manner of causes.

In the intervening four years, those with a need to document aspects of their lives or the lives and/or causes of others have been afforded new platforms, which have replaced the traditional public access model, most notably Youtube, which is crowded with presentations on just about anything, save nudity and pornography.
In this new environment comes a serious stab at resurrecting public access through PADNET (Long Beach Public Access Network), part of LBCAP (Long Beach Community Action Partnership), now available in test form on both Charter Cable and FIOS. Everything is currently in place, except for the shows.

Recently appointed PADNET director Lisa Mastramico stated, “I came down here in May to join this program. My career in public access began in Santa Cruz in 1999.“

That’s when things began happening. “We went live on the air Aug. 31. Some of the content is older content, repeating a lot of things,” said Mastramico. “We have producers who have completed content, once they become members we’ll put them on the air. The content is slowly improving and the studio is going to advance content.”

To do that, PADNET needs a studio. “The ground breaking on our HD studio was held on Oct. 24,” meaning the studio’s “white walling, soundproofing, whisper room” are well underway.

“We already have people who are producing,” said Mastramico of the 45 members who are eligible to produce. “Some of them are new; it takes a while to produce things.”

LBACAP Executive Director Darick Simpson said, “We plan to have programming for cable TV, Internet broadcasting, smart phones, tablet computers, broader in scope than just TV, we see the future in other media than just cable TV, which is a relatively small portion.”

In the past, access producers were required to learn the equipment and other essentials, and were then free to begin producing shows. And in the case of access under Charter Cable, free meant exactly that, a no-cost opportunity to go either live or on tape on the dedicated access channel.

Not so with PADNET. With individual memberships at $50 and various required classes on field production and editing, the cost to become an effective producer hovers around $230. However, Mastramico pointed out, “In November and December all our classes are half price.”

According to Mastramico, “It’s not unusual for stations to charge. We have to get creative to sustain a station. The station in Santa Cruz does charge for members and for classes. The charge is not only because of the changing legislation,” which allowed FIOS to compete with Charter in the local market, but relieved those companies of the access requirement. “Our goal is to make the station accessible to everyone.” And connecting with Charter is also expensive. “We have to pay a monthly $1,900 fee to Charter for connectivity.”

Asked to verify this fee, Charter noted a “Confidential Data Transport Agreement” signed by Simpson on Jan. 20, 2012 precluding disclosure of such information.

Currently LBPAD has two full- time and two part-time employees. “In a sense, all the producers are volunteers, it depends what they are going to do. We’re working on a scholarship structure, which means hours worked could offset fees.”

As Charter Cable serves two communities, their earlier public access system was available to residents of both Long Beach and Signal Hill. Surprisingly, according to Mastramico, only Long Beach residents are allowed to produce. “We don’t serve Signal Hill because they’re separately incorporated. Signal Hill residents should be asking that city for cable access money.”

“If people have content who live outside of Long Beach, they can partner with a Long Beach partner who can submit that, take responsibility for it. That content will be given a lower priority.”

“Our studio will be ready by Feb. 1 and available to members,” said Mastramico. “Probably in March, we will do a studio grand opening. Our plan is to have a lottery for time slots for a year and once we do that we will have a regular schedule. To apply for a serious time slot, you have to have three shows in the can.”

So what is a “serious time slot”? “Prime time is the same for the networks 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. We don’t plan on a dark day.”
“I covered the doggie parade for access. We want to be there to cover the community that no one else does,” said Mastramico. “Public access is where my heart is.”