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Sep 30, 2009 2:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach is turned off by Cablevision proposal

Sep 30, 2009 2:12 PM

Westhampton Beach Village Board members would rather stay off the air than have their meetings shown on a public access channel in the middle of the night.

Cablevision has proposed airing the board meetings on Channel 20, the company’s public access channel, while its lawyers iron out the details of a new franchise agreement with Westhampton Beach. Board members, however, were disappointed with the time slots available from October until May 2010, and with the length of the interim agreement.

Board members were hoping to air their monthly meetings in the evening, but most of the time slots available are between midnight and 6 a.m. Some slots were open in the middle of the day, according to a letter from Cablevision that was discussed at the Village Board’s work session on Wednesday, September 23, but the village would have to apply for each individual time slot.

“We better hurry up. That 4 a.m. time slot is looking really good,” board member Hank Tucker said sarcastically during the work session. “We should go back and tell them, ‘Thanks, but you need to give us something better.’”

When Westhampton Beach board meetings were aired on Sea-TV, Southampton Town’s public access channel, they usually ran on Friday and Saturday evenings. Sea-TV stopped airing the meetings in June, after village officials refused to pay the town $9,000 a year to help cover the administrative fees needed to operate the channel.

The village would have been forced to impose a franchise fee tax on its residents to raise the money requested by Southampton Town, according to Westhampton Beach officials. The village declined to pay the bill before their meetings were pulled from the air.

Cablevision’s lawyers are still investigating the possibility of forcing Sea-TV into airing the village meetings again at no cost, said Westhampton Beach Village Clerk Kathy McGinnis.

Though the board meetings have not been aired in nearly three months, village residents do not seem to miss them. Ms. McGinnis said she received a few complaints, but “there’s been no outcry.”

Susan Kelley, a 75-year-old Westhampton Beach resident, said she sometimes enjoys watching the board meetings. She said she did not notice when the meetings stopped being aired, but does think they should be back on television.

“People in a small community should know about issues they’re interested in,” Ms. Kelley said.

The village’s monthly board meetings are recorded by Black Sheep Television and posted online every month if a resident does want to watch them, Ms. McGinnis said. The link to the video can be found on the village’s homepage, westhamptonbeach.org.

At the board’s August work session, Joan Gilroy, director of government affairs for Cablevision, said her company provided Southampton Town with its public access channel, Sea-TV. Village meetings were aired as part of the company’s agreement with the town, she said.

Though it cannot charge the villages programming fees, the town can still collect administrative fees, Ms. Gilroy said. Still, she did not agree with the amount that the town wanted to charge for that service.

“It seems like a lot of money to just insert a tape,” she said, referring to the town’s request for an annual $9,000 payment.

Since that time, the village has been trying to revise its 10-year franchise agreement with Cablevision that expired two years ago, and secure another time slot to air its board meetings. Cablevision has an obligation to provide the village with a public access television station, Ms. McGinnis said.

Village Attorney Bo Bishop said there is no rush to sign a new agreement. “There’s no time limit unless we want a time limit,” he said.

He also suggested reaching out to the Public Service Commission, which oversees New York State telecommunications, and see if it can assist the village with the wording of its new contract with Cablevision.

Village Board members will hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed Cablevision franchise agreement during their next meeting scheduled for Thursday, October 1.

Board members Toni-Jo Birk and Joan Levan did not attend the September 23 work session.

In other news, board members are considering changing the village’s outdoor music permit rules, and might even ban amplifiers and limit the number of performers on any given night. No amendments are now on the table, and board members did not indicate during this week’s meeting when they will discuss the issue again.

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Cablevision is a monopoly and there's nobody out there that will put an end to their bullying policies. I wish we had alternatives to these money hungry bastards, but we don't. The P.S.C. takes money thru the back door and cablevision has a lot to give. The East End towns should consider their own cable services and when completed, they could serve as a model to other Suffolk towns.
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Oct 6, 09 8:02 PM