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County streams meetings on the Web

July 11, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - And ... they're live.

As the Washington County Commissioners debate rezoning requests, approve minutes and hand out awards, the public can listen from home.

On Tuesday, for the first time, the commissioners' proceedings were broadcast through streaming audio on the county's Web site.

Around 11:15 a.m., an "On Air" sign lit up in the back of the meeting room. Much of Washington County then had a chance to hear for themselves about an additional cost for a radio communications system.

Some commissioners have pushed hard for meetings to be shown on public-access cable television, as the meetings for the City of Hagerstown and the Washington County Board of Education are.

County officials are studying concepts and costs.

A study commissioned in 2005 estimated that installing and maintaining a studio and control room could cost $500,000 to $1 million. However, it would cost less than $50,000 a year for a company to route video and audio feeds to a cable provider or the Internet, Norman Bassett, the county's public information officer, has said.

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Bassett wrote in his summary of Tuesday's meeting that the cost of streaming audio was far lower: less than $1,500 for software and cables.

County Administrator Gregory Murray said streaming audio might be temporary while the county works on a TV plan or it might be permanent.

Murray told the commissioners that some residents don't have access to Antietam Cable's public-access channels. Others can't pick up streaming video on the Internet, so streaming audio, which needs less bandwidth, makes sense.

"This is a very good initial start," he said.

He said the county will post sound files with the commissioners' profiles, so people can recognize their voices during discussions.

As some commissioners joked about toying with sound files, someone noted that people will be listening to everything they say.

Not many, though, for now. Murray said a measurement device showed that the peak number of listeners on Tuesday was 15. He was sure some were curious county employees.

The county began broadcasting an informational program on the radio in 2005, then started Podcasting that program last year, according to Bassett.

At one point, Washington County was among the iTunes top 25 in popularity for local government Podcasts, he said.

The Washington County Board of Education has aired its meetings on public-access TV for about 10 years, spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

Hagerstown started showing city council meetings on TV in April 2003, Director of Community Affairs Karen Giffin said.

The city has not talked about using streaming audio, Giffin said.

The school board is "not sure if streaming will fit our needs," Mowen said.




How to listen



Live streaming audio of Washington County Commissioners meetings is available at the county's Web site, www.washco-md.net. Click on "Listen to Commissioners Meeting Live!"

Sound files also will be posted after meetings are over. A file of Tuesday's meeting, the first one broadcast live, should be on the Web site within a few days, county spokesman Norman Bassett said.

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