Community Voice in Jeopardy as Akaku Faces Bid

By Catherine Cluett

Akaku, the public television station for the county of Maui, may be up for bid because of controversy over its funding. Hawaii would be the only state to put its public access organizations up for bid, a decision which some say could disrupt and even jeopardize the future of public access television.

But Akaku isn’t ready to give up, and it hopes Molokai isn’t either. As Linda Puppolo, Administrative Services Director of Akaku, says, “We are fighting until there is no more to fight.”
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What is Akaku?

Akaku is one of four public, education, and government (PEG) access organizations in Hawaii, and services the county of Maui. The private non-profit was created by the State of Hawaii in 1993 as a brand for public access, and has maintained close associations with the community ever since. It is funded by cable subscriber fees, three percent of which go into a fund to support Hawaii’s public access stations.

Akaku operates three stations: channel 52, a public channel with content submitted by community producers; channel 53, the government affairs channel; and channel 54, dedicated to video in demand, on which everything aired has been requested by viewers on a first-come first-serve basis. Akaku is the first station in the United States to establish such a channel, and its motto is one of hope: “Empowering the community's voice through access to media.”

The DCCA versus Akaku

In 1998, the state agency tasked with regulating public funding, the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), began oversight of Akaku’s contracts with the state.

In 2005, the DCCA questioned Akaku’s right to funding without having to bid for the job alongside other would-be service providers. The question went to the State Attorney General who sided with DCCA; public access programming would go to bid.

Akaku’s long-standing history of difficulties with the DCCA came to a head in 2006 when it sued the state agency. State funds used to purchase services are normally awarded through a bidding process regulated by the DCCA. Akaku claims that its funding is provided directly from cable companies and is therefore not subject to DCCA authority.

Why the Fight?

The procurement process would put all four state-wide public access entities up for auction to the lowest bidder. According to Puppolo, several undesirable outcomes could arise from this scenario.

The quality of public access could be compromised if the contract was awarded to a company that lacks the infrastructure, recognition and experience that Akaku has established throughout the past 15 years.  Akaku might not be able to afford the same quality of service if it is forced to bid low. Competing companies are allowed to receive corporate subsidies which could allow for hidden interests to influence programming.

No Voice
Unfortunately, Molokai won’t have a chance weigh in on alternatives to the procurement process. A DCCA task force formed to solicit public input and examine methods other than the public procurement process will be visiting all four counties, but has decided not to visit Molokai.

Molokai’s Akaku employees Joshua Pastrana and Dan Emhof are currently circulating a petition asking that the task force hold a hearing on Molokai.

Island residents will, however, be able to attend an Oct. 7 public meeting held by the DCCA to set rules on how to conduct its proposed procurement. It might be Molokai’s only opportunity to speak up about the bid process threatening Akaku and the State’s other PEG channels. Despite the impending challenges, Akaku CEO Jay April remains optimistic.

“The state is like Goliath, and I’m pretty good with my slingshot,” he says.

To sign a petition to support the continuation of Akaku or for more information, contact Pastrana or Emhof at 553-3455.

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