BELLINGHAM - After "a couple decades" of kicking the idea around, the City Council voted unanimously to bring public-access television to Bellingham.
Council on Monday, July 21, approved a 12-month pilot project to air six hours of public-access programming per week on BTV10, the city's government and educational television station. Productions from the public are tentatively scheduled to start airing the evening of Oct. 5.
Submissions could be accepted beginning Sept. 15.
"I'm really excited about this," council member Gene Knutson said. "After kicking this around for a couple decades, we're finally at the point where we're going to start something."
The foray into public access TV follows the failure of a more ambitious proposal from last year. The council put out a request for applications from companies that would run a separate public-access channel with a six-figure budget, to be funded with fees paid by Comcast cable subscribers.
The city got one application, from Bellingham-based Center for New Media, which was rejected in January.
The council decided in June to pursue putting a limited amount of programming on BTV10. That vote passed with one dissenter, Michael Lilliquist, who was concerned the city would exercise editorial control over the public's submissions.
Lilliquist approved the pilot project in Monday's vote, after Mayor Kelli Linville said the city would not be "picking winners and losers" and could go with a simple first-come, first-served approach in picking which videos to air.
"Anything we can do to create that separation I will be pleased by," Lilliquist said.
"We are making space available for the public to submit content," said Brian Heinrich, executive coordinator in the mayor's office. "We are not interested in regulating that content. We don't have any criteria over that content. It is public access in really its purest form."
Assistant city attorney Alan Marriner said there could be limits to what the city will allow on public access TV.
"Recognizing we need to be content neutral, there would be certain things that we would not accept as being appropriate to put on public television," Marriner told the council.
City attorney Peter Ruffatto elaborated in an email to The Bellingham Herald on Tuesday, July 22:
"The city will need to ensure that its policies are consistent with its contractual obligations under the franchise agreement (with Comcast), and with federal and state laws that may apply," Ruffatto wrote. "Examples of areas of limitation that may be addressed by policies include advertisement of lotteries, commercial programming, obscenity and copyright laws."
The full cost of the public-access pilot is not yet known. The council agreed on Monday to spend $7,875 in 2014 to make a part-time television production assistant full time. The city plans to hire a company to train videographers on how to meet BTV10's production standards. Officials have tentatively set aside the week of Sept. 8 for the training. The city also might purchase equipment residents can use to create their programs.
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