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Comcast change prompts complaints

March 5, 2004

By BRENDA SCHORY
Kane County Chronicle

GENEVA — GHS-TV was set to broadcast Geneva High School's daily announcements to every classroom when they discovered their channel had been hijacked.

Comcast last week juggled its channel lineup to include three new channels. In doing so, it appropriated Channel 72, which the high school had used for its daily in-house broadcast to homerooms, for one of the three new channels. The high school station was switched to Channel 99.

The change came without warning and also prompted complains from Tri-Cities subscribers who said they were not notified of the changes.

"Comcast changed our station from Channel 72 ... without any warning," said Cheryl Curtin, who teaches English and TV production at the school.

Comcast spokeswoman Pat Keenan said Tri-Cities subscribers were notified by letter, messages in cable bills and newspaper advertisements that some channels would change because of three new stations, Gala Vision, Golf and Outdoor Life. There is no cost increase for the new channels.

The notification went out early last month. But Geneva High School is a free account, not a paid subscriber, so it was not notified, she said.

"According to the agreement, Comcast has to provide us with a channel. It does not have to be the same channel. This is the second time they switched us. They did it last year," Curtin said.

"Because those are free, we don't do letters to them," Keenan said of the high school's channel access for local broadcasts.

She said that after talking to Comcast's marketing department, they decided, "It is probably a good idea to send a separate letter to them, a free account." As for when Comcast might appropriate Channel 99 for another station, Keenan said, "We no plans for additional changes."

To solve its problem, school technicians disconnected the cable for three school days, from Feb. 26 to March 1, until the school's televisions and broadcast equipment could be switched to Channel 99. The signal is available only within the school. During those days, teachers could not use cable stations for teaching.

"It's disruptive," said Elizabeth Janowiak, technology director for Geneva schools.

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said he received calls from constituents about the channel changes and questioned whether Comcast provided enough notice to subscribers.

"This one came about with no notice at all as far as I can tell. To me, it's just another example of lack of partnership. They are a service provider, and the level of service you get is not really that high," Maladra said.
Peter Collins, Geneva information systems supervisor, also received phone calls from subscribers who did not know about the changes. He said everything Comcast sends to the city will be posted on its Web site at www.geneva.il.us.

While the high school's problem was solved, it comes as little consolation for the three days that the its TV production crew was disrupted and teachers were inconvenienced.

"We changed it to Channel 99 — you just flip through the stations and find which channels are not being used. The teachers have to change their channels over to 99 where the school signal is. It's a big mess. It's a really big mess," Curtin said.

"If they had passed the (municipal broadband) referendum for the city getting fiber ... we would not have to worry about this any more," she said.

Last spring, voters rejected a request from Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles to create a municipal broadband fiber-optic network. Comcast and SBC campaigned heavily against it.

Janowiak and Curtin said the district's TV studio could become a public access channel through the city. Collins said that would open for negotiations when Comcast's franchise agreement comes due in July.

Reprinted by permission Kane County Chronicle © 2004

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