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CAN-TV Threatened By Cable Giant RCN's Broken Promise

Cable access station CAN-TV, which has covered Chicago progressive issues and communities for 19 years, is in danger because of cable giant RCN's failure to follow through on a funding promise.
CAN-TV, Chicago's public access station with five channels, is well known to activists and others around the city as it broadcasts live call-in shows and talk shows on community and progressive political issues and broadcasts of town hall meetings, protests and cultural and community events. Resources and rights for immigrants, tolerance in the wake of Sept. 11, various organized labor campaigns and issues of solidarity with Central America are just some of the topics that CAN-TV regularly covers.
Now the future of the station, or at least a good chunk of its programming, is in danger because the multimedia giant RCN Corp. is refusing to make good on a funding promise of $645,000 made in 2000. As part of soothing public nervousness about mass media mergers and meeting what is left of what was once considered the media's obligation to allow a democracy of voices, cable companies have long been the major funders of CAN-TV and other cable access stations around the country. As such RCN and other cable companies provide a large chunk of CAN-TV's budget.
After RCN promised the funds after the major acquisition that marked its entry into Chicago in 2000, CAN-TV increased its staff 50 percent to 45 people and expanded its services.
RCN, backed by Microsoft mogul Paul Allen, had been pushing an ambitious plan to combine cable, internet and other media - a plan met with suspicion and outrage by anti-media conglomeration activists. But so far the plan has not been a success, miles of fiber optic cable that the company laid at a cost of billions of dollars have not been used and it is losing money. So it has just decided to forget about the money it owes CAN-TV.
CAN-TV officials said that despite their best efforts at both diplomacy and angry pressure they have basically been ignored by RCN including CEO David McCourt. RCN has asked the city to provide it relief, since the funding process is overseen by city council, but so far the city has tried to stay out of the process.
It got a little harder for RCN to ignore CAN-TV after close to 100 supporters of CAN-TV showed up at a Cable Commission meeting in Chicago on Mar. 12 and packed the small area in the Harold Washington Library where it was being held to offer their comments.
"RCN’s nonpayment of funds to CAN TV, especially in light of CAN TV’s understandable reliance on RCN’s making payments when due, will result in reductions in service and staffing at CAN TV," says a fact sheet released by CAN-TV, which notes that in its 19 year history no other company has reneged on a promised payment.
CAN-TV staff and supporters note that besides being a serious economic blow to the station, if RCN gets away with failing to meet its funding promise, it will be that much easier for other companies both in Chicago and around the country to do the same, thus endangering one of the few remaining strong bases of public access in television.
Call CAN-TV at 312-738-1400 for more information and to find out how to help.
 
 

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