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Coming Not Too Soon to a Channel Near You

In case you missed the first meeting of the committee hand-picked by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings to decide the future of public-access television in the city, fret not; the meeting was taped and will air on a public-access channel near you—in Bethlehem, actually.

Equipped with production gear borrowed from the Town of Bethlehem’s public-access studio, Steve Winters, representing the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations, recorded the first meeting of the group that will steer contract negotiations between the city and its cable provider, Time Warner.

Winters said he had to borrow the equipment from Bethlehem since Albany doesn’t have a public-access studio or production equipment. Once he edits the video, either in his home or at the Bethlehem studio, Winters said the tape must be played on Bethlehem’s public access station before it can be aired in Albany. To reach an Albany audience, Winters said he’ll have to bring the tape to Time Warner’s office in Rotterdam and roughly a month later it should be broadcast on one of Albany’s public-access channels. Winters is hoping the rigmarole will change when Albany renews its cable contract with Time Warner.

State law requires cable providers and municipalities to renegotiate their contracts at minimum every 10 years, and Albany’s expires in October 2004. Since March, city officials and private citizens have been gearing up for negotiations that could bring millions of dollars to the city’s coffers.

At last week’s meeting Steven Shaye, a spokesman for the New York State Public Service Commission, which regulates the cable industry, informed the committee of what it can expect from contract renegotiations.

Cable providers are bound by law to provide certain fees and services to municipalities in exchange for exclusive, often lucrative, contracts. They are required to pay franchise fees of up to five percent of their gross annual revenues and to set aside certain channels to be used for public, educational and government purposes. Through negotiations, providers can also be required to fund public-access production studios.

When Albany last negotiated its cable contract in 1994, the city took full advantage of the franchise-fee requirement, a deal which has netted the city $1.6 million over the past two years alone. But the city did not require Time Warner to create a public-access studio within the city.

Albany used the franchise income to fund a $100,000 media-education center at the College of St. Rose, but the program is only open to Albany High School students, not the general public. Winters and other private citizens had been lobbying the common council since March to fund a public-access studio in Albany, but were not chosen by the mayor to sit on the committee addressing the issue [Newsfront, July 31].

“It’d certainly be nice if there were greater community representation of city residents on the committee,” Winters said, “but I’m hopeful. You can always start off hopeful.”

—Travis Durfee

The Big Bank on Campus

University Auxiliary Services has contracted out another service it used to run. On Monday (Aug. 25), Hudson River Bank & Trust Co. opened a full-service bank branch in the University at Albany Campus Center food court. The branch replaces UAS’s check-cashing window.

Dr. Julia Filippone, executive director of UAS, says UAS made the decision to seek an outside bank because they wanted to be able to offer a complete range of financial services, which was “so much more than we could provide ourselves.” UAS banking services cashed paychecks and offered Western Union money transfers.

HRB&T was chosen from half-a-dozen local banks through a request for proposals process, and given the exclusive right to offer banking services on campus. ATMs from other banks will remain. Filippone says UAS was looking for a bank that was interested in operating a full-service branch and willing to operate on a schedule “more like a university than a bank.” The new branch, which offers everything except safety deposit boxes, will be open Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 5 PM.

For those members of the campus community who choose not to open an account with HRB&T, the fee for cashing a check will rise from 60 cents to a dollar.

UAS banking services’ two employees have been hired in a similar capacity by HRB&T. UAS stills runs the Podium accounts, in which students can deposit money and use their student IDs like debit cards to access it on campus, and now at certain off-campus businesses.

Many universities across the country, including a few SUNY schools, have taken a different approach to on- campus banking by starting university credit unions. Credit unions are member-owned, cooperative financial institutions. “[Our] main goal is to satisfy the needs of [our] members,” reads the Web site of the SUNY Geneseo Credit Union. “Unlike banks, whose primary purpose is to provide a profit for their shareholders, credit unions are ‘member owned’ and operated.”

Filippone said UAS did not consider the credit union route. “We were looking to work with an established organization,” she said. “We wanted one that we could expect would stay in business and continue serving the community for many years.”

HRB&T is a publicly-traded company, founded over 150 years ago. It has $2.5 billion in assets. Since going public in 1998, it has “increased shareholder value” by acquiring Mohawk Community Bank, Cohoes Savings Bank, and Schenectady Federal Savings Bank.

UAS is a private, not-for-profit organization that offers quality-of-life services to students, faculty, and staff at the University at Albany. It is responsible for food services, bookstore, computer sales, vending, laundry, and more. UAS contracted out its food service and vending functions in July 1999. Barnes & Noble has run the bookstore for years.

Is the banking move part of a on-going trend toward out-sourcing at UAS? Filippone said no. “Our services for the moment are stable,” she said. “We don’t have any plans [to change anything] for the moment.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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