Saturday, May 31, 2008

Oconee County to Start Webcasting

Surprise Response to Request

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night (May 27) agreed to purchase camera equipment to be used to videocast BOC and Planning Commission meetings.

Alan Theriault, county administrative officer, told me on Friday afternoon that he is purchasing two cameras, one for the BOC chamber and the other for the county courtroom, and is exploring web hosting services that will allow the county to post the videocasts and make them available for downloading.

Theriault said he expects the system to be operating by July 1.

The BOC usually holds its twice-monthly meetings in the BOC chamber, but it holds special meetings in the courtroom. The Planning Commission usually uses the courtroom.

The BOC action at the May 27 meeting was in response to a request by Charlie Baugh, Tony Glenn, Russ Page and me at the May 6 BOC meeting. We asked the BOC to explore ways to begin videocasting its meetings.

We asked that the BOC explore cablecasting as well as webcasting and said we would start our own webcasting immediately and continue to do so until the county began providing the service. (The May 27 meeting can be viewed here.)

The request produced not a single response at the May 6 meeting from Commission Chairman Melvin Davis or any of the other four commissioners.

Only Commissioners Chuck Horton and Jim Luke responded to email messages Baugh and I sent to the commissioners after the meeting. Horton said he was not opposed to videocasting; Luke said he was open to discussion of the issue at some point in the future.

Davis, who controls the BOC agenda, included discussion of webcasting of BOC and Planning Commission meetings when the BOC agenda was released to the public on May 23.

Clarke County telecasts its commission meetings on cable and began webcasting about a year ago. Walton County also has telecast its BOC meetings and is exploring webcasting, as is Barrow County.

Oconee County has cable franchise agreements with the three cable companies that serve the unincorporated parts of the county: Charter Communications, Comcast Cable and KLIP LLC, and it collects a franchise fee of 5 percent of annual Gross Revenue from each of the companies.

The Charter agreement includes the provision that the cable company would give the county up to two channels for non-commercial, video programming for education and government access programming and provide to the county a one-time grant of up to $10,000 educational and governmental programming costs once the county began using the first of these channels.

The KLIP and Comcast agreements also include the provision that the cable company would give the county two channels and a one-time grant of up to $20,000 each.

All three cable agreements require the cable operator to provide and maintain the equipment for the sending and receiving of signals from the courthouse, but they do not cover the costs of cameras and editing equipment needed to produce the telecast.

Governments generally use the cable franchise fees to cover the costs associated with production of the telecasts. These franchise fees are passed along to consumers as part of the cable subscription costs, of course, which means that Oconee County cable subscribers have been paying for the franchise fee without receiving anything tangible in return.

Theriault told me on Friday that the county does not want to telecast BOC and Planning Commission meetings on cable because only about 30 percent of the households in the county have cable service.

Chairman Davis in the past and Commissioner Luke in his email message to me expressed concern about people watching the meetings live, rather than watching delayed webcasts. The delay, of course, gives the county the ability to edit what is uploaded to the web.

I had my conversation with Theriault on Friday as I was entering the courthouse to obtain materials the county had provided me in response to an open records request. I had asked for and obtained the three franchise agreements.

All three contracts had been signed in December of 2004.

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