Council eyes possibility of city-run cable channel

COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s council will try to decide, again, whether the city wants to get into the television business.Whitley County resident Erik Mollberg, who serves as the assistant manager for Access Fort Wayne with the Allen County Public Library, told the town’s Common Council last week that the city, courtesy of its franchise agreement with Mediacom, has money available for equipment that could be used for operating a cable television channel.The channel, called a PEG (public, educational and government access) channel, could have a variety of uses, according to Mollberg, who told the board that money accrues every five years for the purchase of equipment. At $20,000 per five-year period, Mollberg said Columbia has $40,000 waiting to be used.“The capital monies are available via the franchise agreement the city made with Mediacom some 15 years ago,” said Mollberg.“Currently, the city has only requested $20,000 and $40,000 is now available for city to request,” said Mollberg. “The city only has to ask Mediacom to give the money that was agreed upon.”Mollberg told the board that in Allen County, the number one program viewed on public access television involves coverage of local government.“City council meetings are number one,” said Mollberg.Columbia City Mayor Jim Fleck told Mollberg that when the city last received funds from the agreement, a committee was formed to look into such a channel.“We thought maybe the library could be the administrator,” said Fleck.“There were several concerns, one of those was that we couldn’t afford it.”Fleck added that with the passing of time, it was an issue that could be re-introduced.“We would certainly be willing to form another committee,” said Fleck. “I think it’s something that should be revisited.”Mollberg said Mediacom is required by state statute to provide an available channel for the municipality it serves.Columbia City receives a franchise fee from Mediacom that represents five percent of the company’s gross subscriber revenue.“It (PEG channel) provides the city and county with the chance to communicate with local residents, and the opportunity of inclusive government,” said Mollberg.While a committee will take another look at the issue, Councilman Dan Weigold pointed out that advancements in communications have made possible more ways to publicize council meetings than just having the meetings aired on a cable channel.“Knowing all the technology that’s out there now like the Internet, there’s numerous ways to get our information out to the public,” said Weigold.Mollberg said he was asked by local residents to appear before the council and make the presentation.“It is only for the good of local residents that I appeared,” he said.