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Berkeley County Commission forms cable advisory group

March 13, 2001

Berkeley County Commission forms cable advisory group



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission recently created an advisory committee to recommend ideas to be included in a new cable television franchise.

The commission also appointed five people to what will be a seven-member Berkeley County Cable Advisory Board March 8. Four of the seven spoke at a public hearing before the commission at the time about upgrading the cable franchise agreement. The 20-year-old agreement expires May 28.

Most who spoke asked for public access channels that would provide a variety of information.

A new agreement could require Adelphia Co. to buy equipment and set up a "community media center" to train people and produce high-quality television directed specifically to the local community.

Cable companies around the country have agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to help get public access activities started, said Craig Shipley, an independent television producer from Hedgesville, W.Va.

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"This should be more than a scrolling message board," said Christina Lundberg, director of Shepherd College's small business program.

"It's not meeting the needs of our community," said Judy Boykin of the limited public access being provided through GS Communications. She was representing a variety of nonprofit groups that could use public access to reach more people. "Public access would create so many new opportunities," she said.

Adelphia is about to buy out GS Communications.

The Berkeley County School System uses Channel 19 to communicate with the public, said spokeswoman Mary Joe Brown. Jefferson County Schools also uses the same channel. The City of Martinsburg uses channel 17 and puts up notices of all its meetings, community celebrations and other information, said City Manager Bark Baldwin. Berkeley County does not use a public access channel, nor does any government in Jefferson County.

Martinsburg's franchise agreement with GS Communications runs out May 27 and it also is looking at changes as the negotiations begin.

"We'll be in touch with the county," Baldwin said.

The county government is allowed to negotiate a contract with a cable television provider in return for letting the provider use the county right of way. GS Communications currently pays the county about $255,000 a year. That money goes into the county's general fund budget and pays for all county functions.

"It's been a real windfall for them," Shipley said.

He said the county could negotiate an agreement to have Adelphia pay for many of the things residents want above the franchise fee paid to the county.

"If you don't ask, you don't get," he said.

The commissioners said they are interested in exploring all the possibilities. They created the new committee on the spot after the public hearing.

"We want to take care of all our citizens," said Commissioner Robert Burkhart.

Shipley, Lundberg and Boykin will serve on the committee. Diane Mickelson of DInaMic Fitness, a health promotion educator who spoke at the hearing, also will serve. Brown also was appointed

Although the franchise agreement expires near the end of May, it can be extended while new options are explored, said Dell Hanley, area manager for Adelphia.

He said the company is willing to explore new ideas.

"We're very excited about coming to this area," Hanley said.

Shipley said Berkeley County could be the first county in the state to set up a public access network if the commission chooses to do so.

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