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Ready for his close-up: Albany Common Councilman John Rosenzweig at the announcement of Albany’s public access TV deal.

Photo: Alicia Solsman

Set Your TiVos

Albany announces that it has (finally) struck a deal for public access TV

The city of Albany has an nounc ed plans for a public access cable television system (including educational and government channels) more than 30 years after neighboring cities such as Schenectady and Bethlehem implemented similar public services. Monday, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Common Councilman John Rosenzweig (Ward 8) announced a new franchise agreement between the city and Time Warner Cable. Along with all the formal verbiage covering legal and geographical considerations, this new, 10-year contract contains a section titled Public, Educational and Government Access Channels and Service.

Under the terms of this part of the new agreement, Time Warner will provide funding for equipment to be provided at five locations for training, programming and broadcasting purposes. The cost to Time Warner will not be more than $217,000 until 2013, at which point Albany may request up to $217,000 more for repairs and additional equipment. A board of directors that will oversee the allocation of funds has yet to be announced, but is expected to consist of council members as well as representatives from the community, the College of St. Rose, the New School of Radio and Television and Albany Public Library.

The College of St. Rose and the New School of Radio and Television will be receiving funding for additional equipment as well as providing space and already existing equipment for educational use. Representatives from both schools have pledged to provide training, and they are expected to be the main producers of the government and educational programs. This situation, said Rosenzweig, is optimal because it benefits the students and because it should result in a “more refined product.” St. Rose has also dedicated 10 dates during the upcoming year during which the general public will be able to access their new Communications Center and learn to work with state-of-the-art equipment, according to Rosenzweig.

The third location, a studio to be built at the main branch of the Albany Public Library, will be the main access point for the public. The library has agreed to supply the space, but not the personnel, for a new studio to be used primarily for the public access channel. The location was chosen due to its central location and bus-route accessibility. The new studio will include an actual interview set with lighting kit, camera equipment, a prompter, a widescreen television and an editing system.

Albany High School will receive computers and monitors, as well as recording and editing equipment for educational purposes. Students will be able to take classes and work on programming in conjunction with the New School and St. Rose. Camera and sound equipment will also be provided for Albany City Hall to record and broadcast public government meetings.

One drawback to the new PEG system is that those who do not subscribe to Time Warner Cable will most likely not be able to access the public and educational channels. Rosenzweig has said that they hope to be able to convert government programs to a supportable format on the city’s Web site and to make them available there. It is unlikely that they will do so with the educational or public access programming.

The idea to bring public access television to Albany is not a new one. A committee formed more than seven years ago, then fizzled before action was taken, even amid myriad requests from the community. “We’re 20 years behind the times,” said Councilman Dom inick Calsolaro (Ward 1), who was a member of the original committee. “We borrowed equipment from Bethlehem for years,” he said, adding that the grassroots effort, Albany Community Television, has been filming the Common Council and school board meetings more recently. (You can find Albany Community Television online at albanycommunitytelevision.com.)

In 2006, after taking office, Rosenzweig requested that the merits of a public access system be reconsidered and Common Council President Pro Tem Richard Conti (Ward 6) agreed, naming him chairman of the ad hoc committee. According to Rosenzweig, the first step was to reach out to the public for input. He said that, after meeting with community members, neighborhood organizations and educational institutions, “The desire and the need for it had been clearly demonstrated.” The next step, then, was to figure out how to implement it.

It is not unusual for cable companies to buy franchises from the cities in which they do business, the franchise fee essentially paying for the use of the land on which they install poles, cables and any other public necessities required to supply a vast majority of the population with a service. Albany is currently receiving 5 percent of Time Warner’s gross income, according to Rosenzweig. It makes good fiscal sense for Albany then, he said, to make use of that already-existing, mutually beneficial relationship when undertaking such a potentially costly venture.

The proposed contract will go before the Common Council for approval in early February and must be approved by the Public Service Commission before it will be implemented. If all goes according to plan, Rosenzweig said that he hopes to have the system up and running by the time school starts next September.

—Ali Hibbs


Insult to Injury

Victims and researchers worry New York state budget crunch will derail progress on spinal cord injuries

Last week, victims and researchers of spinal cord injuries in New York state faced the prospect that more than 10 years of discoveries toward a cure may have been futile. According to Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposal, the Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund is being “phased out,” along with many other public heath programs, in an attempt to reclaim $14.5 million.

The fund was created in 1998 with the advocacy of Albany resident and former State Trooper Paul Richter, who was shot in the leg, arm, and neck while on duty in 1973. The near-fatal shot to the neck—though leaving him paralyzed for six months—motivated Richter to fight for a cure.

Although his injury forced him to retire at the age of 36, Richter still believes he is lucky to have regained the ability to walk with a cane. As chapter coordinator of the New York Spinal Cord Society, he became active helping others with spinal cord injuries, eventually organizing a grassroots campaign to get legislation passed in New York that specifically funds a Spinal Cord Injury Research Board. Funding is administered through the New York State Health Department and provided by a small surcharge on moving violations, since the majority of SCIs are caused by motor vehicle accidents. This can add up to about $8.5 million annually.

“These injuries are just so devastating,” said Richter, who proudly displays a photograph of himself and late actor and activist Christopher Reeve watching Gov. George Pataki as he signs the Paul Richter bill into law on July 14, 1998. “And this bill was a wonderful thing.”

New York’s SCIRB was the first of its kind in the country. After its creation, other states followed suit. The extensive research funded by this program is intended to benefit patients of various nervous system disorders.

“We sparked a very intensive and focused research effort on the problem of damaged spinal neurons,” said legal consultant and friend of Richter’s, Terry O’Neill. “And everything that we learned from focusing on that single problem has all kinds of implications for brain injury, multiple sclerosis, all kinds of diseases and injuries to the nervous system.”

Since it has been introduced into law, the fund has given over $54 million to various research programs in the state, and many discoveries have been made “that will eventually lead to a cure,” said Richter. “After so many years, it’s really obscene that they’re even considering terminating this program,” he said. “It’s disgraceful.”

The SCIRB currently has 49 ongoing projects that it hopes to be able to complete. “To terminate it now would be so awful,” said Dr. Sally Temple, scientific director of the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute in Rensselaer. “There are so many of us with promising lines of research that would just be left without completion.” Temple works for an independent non-profit institute focused on nervous system therapies using stem cells. They have been funded for about eight years and have had “really exciting results,” according to Temple, including approving a drug for multiple sclerosis, as a result of studying stem cells in the spinal cord. Temple was awarded the MacArthur “genius” award in 2008 for her work with stem cells, showing great potential for future discoveries.

Upon receiving the notice of termination from the New York State Health Commission, Richter and his supporters are ready to fight for their cause.

“We are launching an effort to get together all the people that helped us put this program together in the first place,” said O’Neill. “Our intent was a long-term investment in something that was going to pay off handsomely in terms of helping people with injuries and developing this cutting-edge high-tech industry here in New York.”

Those who hope for the continuation of this program claim that it should not significantly affect the budget, since it is generated by the surcharges on traffic fines. Furthermore, the community believes that this program would benefit the economy with the creation of jobs for researchers and scientists, as well as reducing the cost of assisting those with spinal cord injuries.

“There are thousands of people living in the state with spinal cord injuries, and the cost to society to maintain those people through social-service medical help is enormous,” said Richter. “So if we could solve that problem, it would actually save taxpayers money in the long run.”

There are cuts made in every other sector of the budget. “There are a lot of worthy programs,” said Jessica Bassett, spokesperson for the budget division. “But the unfortunate reality of closing a $7.4 billion deficit is that we’re not able to fund these programs.” Bassett said the amount that was appropriated for the spinal cord injury fund will return to the general fund this year.

Richter and his supporters plan to voice their opinion in a public hearing in front of the finance committee.

“This termination could really set back spinal cord injury research significantly, said Richter. “In the last 10 years, we’ve created a wonderful foundation we hope to build on for future research.”

Temple, who recognizes Richter as “a great hero,” hopes to continue in this effort for the sake of everyone belonging to the spinal-cord-injury community.

“We’re all just devastated,” she said.

—Elizabeth Knapp




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