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Channel Change

State cable legislation threatens Germantown High School station.



Last week, a group of Germantown High School students traveled to Nashville to accept student Emmys in the Arts & Entertainment, News, Sports, and Writing categories, as well as eight honorable mentions.

But the students in charge of GHS-TV were in no mood to celebrate. If the Competitive Cable and Video Services Act (CCVSA) passes in Tennessee, the station will be forced to cease operations.

A state bill filed by AT&T in February would allow cable and video companies to bypass the local franchising process and seek franchising rights at the state level. According to AT&T, the local process makes it difficult for new cable companies to enter the market. AT&T says the changes from the proposed bill would create more competition and thus lower prices and create more options for consumers.

But Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and the city's Board of Aldermen disagree.

At a town hall meeting last month, the mayor explained that Germantown's franchise with Comcast (formerly Time Warner) is non-exclusive, meaning any company is welcome to make an offer. In fact, Goldsworthy said that she has not heard any more proposals from AT&T since an initial version of the bill was filed more than a year ago.

Opponents of CCVSA contend that a local franchise is best suited to the needs of the community and that lower-income areas of Germantown may lose access to channels. They also contend that AT&T would have an advantage at the state level over other companies. But it's the fine print that's deadly for GHS-TV.

Germantown charges companies such as Comcast for use of its public right of way, the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street, for underground cables and equipment. Revenue from that fee helps fund the city and public channels such as GHS-TV. If the CCVSA passes as is, revenue from the right-of-way usage fee will decrease and GHS-TV will be forced to make crippling budget cuts.

Additionally, the bill would require local stations to produce eight hours of new programming per day, something GHS-TV founder Frank Bluestein says is far more than what most major cable networks produce. That change alone would spell death for the 25-year-old television network.

Many citizens of Germantown have spoken against the bill, including Germantown High School faculty, Jack Parnell, father of former Saturday Night Live regular Chris Parnell (and a graduate of the GHS-TV program), and a long line of concerned students.

"Students around the world don't get an opportunity like we do," said Archie Mitchell, anchor for Wake Up, Germantown! "This [bill] is not going to help our future."

The Memphis City Council is also considering a resolution opposing the bill.

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