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Oceanic Cable Franchise Hearing on Molokai Tuesday

Akaku: Maui Community Television News Release

Oceanic Time Warner Cable’s franchises to provide cable service in Maui County expire at the end of 2013. The current franchises were issued by the State of Hawaii more than 15 years ago, and the cable company has filed an application with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) to continue providing cable service in Maui County for the next 20 years.

DCCA’s new Cable Administrator, Catherine Awakuni, welcomes comments from the communities of Maui County as DCCA reviews Oceanic Time Warner’s application. In the next few weeks, DCCA will hold public hearings in Kahului and Lahaina, and on Molokai and Lanai. The Molokai hearing will be held this Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 2:30 p.m. at the Kaunakakai Gym Conference Room. Written testimony sent to DCCA is also important. This is a rare opportunity for residents to tell Time Warner what they need and for the DCCA to negotiate with the cable company on behalf of the residents of Maui County.

Cable franchises granted by the State also include public, education and government (PEG) access channels, managed by Akaku: Maui Community Television as the media access facility for Maui County. Akaku recommends that Oceanic Time Warner provide residents of Maui County the following minimum requirements, in exchange for the cable company’s use of valuable public rights of way to deliver cable service:

1. Make cable TV and affordable high speed Internet available to EVERY resident and business in Maui County.

2. Free Wi-Fi in public parks, libraries and community centers.

3. Keep Akaku channels in the same format and signal quality as local broadcast channels. Make sure Akaku channels remain easy to find and repeat them in HD.

4. Increase funding and capital support for Akaku with no restrictions on funds.

5. Help Akaku use all media and technology necessary to get community video to and from every screen in your home, your backpack or your pocket and create media jobs for our keiki.

6. Provide Akaku with 25 hours per month of video on demand.

7. Guaranty that Oceanic Time Warner matches the best public benefits it provides to any other location in the nation.

The State DCCA’s 2012 Hawaii Broadband Strategic Plan concluded that “the cost of broadband in Hawaii is very high for the speed of service received.” Although DCCA cannot directly regulate the Internet, it was able to negotiate with Oceanic Time Warner to provide faster service to Hana residents in 2005, compared to previous levels. The cable company also increased speeds to subscribers on Molokai this summer, shortly before filing its application with DCCA for franchise renewal.

Oceanic Time Warner’s application reveals that the cable company has no plans to upgrade its existing 750 – 795 MHz cable network architecture, open more customer service centers, or change its current policy of not providing cable service to any area where there are fewer than 25 homes per mile. In its application, Oceanic Time Warner refers to such areas as “underdeveloped.” This policy excludes many areas of Maui County from cable service, even though Oceanic Time Warner has reaped the benefits of being the sole cable provider in Maui County for more than fifteen years and is now applying for a twenty-year franchise renewal.

The cable company’s application lists only three “longer term” improvements for the entire twenty-year period of the proposed franchise renewal. The three longer-term improvements include “[p]lanned increases in broadband Internet speeds,” but the application doesn’t say what the company’s plan is—how long it will take for Maui County to receive faster Internet, what the increased speeds will be, and how much it will cost subscribers.

Oceanic Time Warner’s application does refer to its plan to migrate analog channels to the digital tier and to deliver some channels only by switched digital video (SDV), which the cable company claims will allow it to “accommodate increasing demands for greater capacity in its network” without “costly upgrades” to its network architecture. In 2012, the cable company moved two educational channels in Maui County from the analog to the digital tier, causing them to disappear unless customers without digital TV obtained a special set-top box. The move confused many subscribers, who could no longer find favorite shows such as “Preserving Our Recollections.” In moving to digital, the cable company should provide subscribers with everything they need to find and view all local channels serving Maui County, as easily and with the same quality as channels from Honolulu.

Oceanic Time Warner Cable told DCCA that moving local channels will benefit subscribers by allowing the company to offer more high-definition programming, more efficient viewing, substantially faster broadband speeds, and more video-on-demand for educational channels. The application for franchise renewal does not list the specific improvements that resulted from moving channels in 2012, but cable subscribers continue to see a steady increase in fees. Oceanic’s annual revenues from Maui County rose from $52,647,675 in 2007 to $68,586,000 in 2012, with fewer subscribers. This trend is consistent with Time Warner Cable’s national strategy of focusing on higher-paying customers to boost earnings. The New York Times reported that Time Warner Cable’s revenues increased in the second quarter of 2013, even after losing 191,000 television subscribers. A recent Wall Street Journal blog reports, “Some investors blame Time Warner Cable’s management for not investing adequately in the business, instead hiking rates on customers to hit quarterly earnings marks, perhaps at the risk of customer satisfaction in the long term.”

Time Warner Cable received nationwide media attention in recent months after blacking out popular programming as a hardball negotiating tactic in its feud with CBS. Although Oceanic Time Warner is providing credits to Hawai’i subscribers who did not receive Showtime and The Movie Channel during the blackout, its parent company has refused to give refunds or credits to three million subscribers in New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles and other areas who paid for blacked-out CBS programming.

All residents of Maui County have a unique opportunity to be heard on the future of cable service in Maui County, by attending the public hearings and also by sending written testimony to the State DCCA.

Please also send written testimony to: DCCA-CATV, P.O. Box 541, Honolulu, Hawaii 96809 or by email to: cabletv@dcca.hawaii.gov or by fax: 808-586-2625. The deadline for written comments is Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.

The application for franchise renewal filed by Oceanic Time Warner Cable is available for review at DCCA, 335 Merchant Street, Room 101 in Honolulu; at Oceanic Time Warner’s offices at 158 Ma’a Street, Kahului and 910 Honoapi’ilani Highway, Suite 6, Lāhaina; and on the DCCA website: cca.hawaii.gov/catv/files/2013/05/OCEANICAPPLICATIONFORRENEWAL_Maui_20130830.pdf

The Community Ascertainment Report about the cable franchise in Maui County is also available on the DCCA website:

For more information call Suki Halevi at (808) 871-5554 or visit akaku.org


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