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Council wonders about future of music network

Thursday, February 24, 2005 by

AMP' s Wodlinger says she's waiting for Time Warner's answer

City officials are growing anxious as the waiting game continues for Austin Music Partners (AMP) to get ready to take over operation of what is now the Austin Music Network (Cable Channel 15). AMP spokeswoman Connie Wodlinger gave the Council’s Committee on Telecommunications Infrastructure an update yesterday that raised as many questions as it answered.

AMP, a group including Wodlinger, a Denver-based investment firm and Time Warner Cable, cut a deal with the city last fall to take over programming responsibilities for what it will call the Austin Music and Arts Channel. The venture, which they hope to market beyond Austin, is planned to draw revenue from sponsorships, advertising and cable subscription fees, and remove the need for the city to subsidize the operation. (See In Fact Daily, October 1, 2004) AMP told the city 75 to 80 percent of its programming would come from local musicians and artists. The agreement calls for AMP to pay the city about $2.8 million and other considerations over the term of the contract, which would run through 2012.

Initial plans for AMP to take over the network by the end of January are now on hold. “We are still awaiting approval by Time Warner corporate,” Wodlinger said. “We have received information that we are on the agenda for approval at the corporate level in the next 10 days to two weeks. . . We have taken everything as far as we can take it. Approval of the carriage agreement will allow us to finalize the deal with our investors.”

She says pending that action, they are ready to get going. “We are poised to start,” she said. “Our plan remains in place. We have identified several people for key staff positions, and we have had incredible support from a large number of people in the arts community.”

Programming on Channel 15 is currently being produced under a short-term agreement with Austin Community Television (ACTV).

The delay from the start date of February 1 has now been pushed back to April 1, but even that is now in doubt. According to Wodlinger, AMP needs a 60-to 90-day “ramp-up” period from the point that Time Warner approves the agreement. Council Member Raul Alvarez pointed out that if that does happen within the two-week timeline, the startup date would be somewhere around June 1 or later.

Wodlinger agreed. “Every day that goes by it becomes less likely that we will make the April 1 start date.” she said, adding that AMP has contingency plans to keep the Austin Music Network on the air until they can get started. Wodlinger was somewhat vague when pressed by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman on just what those contingency plans include. “We can hopefully get ACTV to extend on a 30-day basis if we can’t make the April 1 timeline,” she said.

Wodlinger attributed the delay to a corporate shake-up at Time Warner and its recent attempt to take over Adelphia Communications. “During that time, our project fell of the radar screen,” she said. “Many of the original people we worked with have been moved out of their position, so we have had to start the process over again. We have the full support of the local Time Warner people, but we are still waiting for the corporate people to act.”

Alvarez said the timeline made him nervous, suggesting that arrangements be made now to extend ACTV’s operation of the channel. “We are already pushing the limits on this. Time is getting very tight,” he said. “Before we are up against it, let’s give ourselves some breathing room.”

Goodman said that even though the committee isn’t scheduled to meet again until March 23, she was adamant that AMP keep the city appraised of their status. “If you do not get the approval from Time Warner in the next two weeks, we may need a special meeting to decide what steps to take.”

After the meeting, Alvarez said the city shouldn’t be willing to wait any longer than that. “I’m not comfortable playing this waiting game,” he said. “I want to see the City Manager and the Council involved in what happens here. It just doesn’t give us much room to maneuver. We can’t just transfer from one network to the other overnight. We have to plan for how that is going to work.”

Alvarez said he wasn’t sure what the city might do if AMP could not take over the music channel, “but if they don’t hear something soon, we may have to intervene in the situation.”

Contacted later, Goodman said, “It’s been a long, long time with no word and no update. At a certain point, no matter what the few options are in front of you . . . you have to say ‘we have to stop there and find another way.’” She noted that Wodlinger seemed confident Wednesday, but Goodman said she was considering a call to Time Warner herself to see if she could find out more about when they might have a decision on the matter.

Austin frets about impact of bill on WiFi

An overhaul of the state’s telecommunications law – intended to “level the field” across all technologies – includes one provision that could have a negative impact on Texas cities.

Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) is carrying the bill in the House. During testimony before the House Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday, Austin lobbyist Clarence West raised the concern of Texas cities over the apparent prohibition of municipal Wi-Fi hot spots. Language in House Bill 789 appears to prohibit hot spots provided by cities.

Austin is in the midst of a Wi-Fi expansion. As the host city for the World Congress of Information Technology in 2006, city leaders have expressed a wish to extend Wi-Fi services across Austin by convention time.

King said he was aware some cities had interpreting the section as prohibiting municipal Wi-Fi “hot spots,” but that prohibition of city or library hot spots was not his intention. Instead, King wanted to stop cities from getting into the competitive broadband market.

“I’m thinking of a particular city, and I won’t mention a name, that was looking at offering broadband over power line service for a fee in a city that was already offering SBC DSL service,” King said. “What we’re struggling with is wanting to prevent cities from directly competing from with the private sector where those services were going to be provided by the private sector.”

King asked West to draft language that could convey the “non-competitive” intentions of the bill. That language should be back to the committee by week’s end. West asked for other clarifications of other language in the bill, such as promises that fees would be “revenue neutral” and “technology neutral.”

Austin opposes another provision in the bill – also opposed by wireless companies—that would give cities the right to claim right-of-way fees for wireless services. West said federal precedents do not appear to support the provision of the fees, unless the wireless service is actually physically using right-of-way access. Wireless companies say Texas' fees are higher than most states, about 14 percent of any given wireless phone bill.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Crocker’s going-away party . . . Some of Sarah Crocker’s friends gathered at Artz Rib House last night to toast the red-haired consultant and bid farewell to one of Austin’s most colorful land development specialists in recent memory. Crocker is moving to Washington, DC to begin a new career. She expects to finish her final case before the City Council at next week’s meeting. (See In Fact Daily, February 22, 2005.) Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman delivered a proclamation for Crocker, which noted in part . . . “Whereas, more than 15 years ago a red-headed lady arrived in the city with her spiked high heels and sometimes short skirts to enter the notorious development process of Austin . . . and, whereas the effects of her successes and failures in representing her clients set a pattern of conducting business with Austin government that will probably never be witnessed again; and whereas, Sarah Crocker has determined that she has had all the fun she can stand in our city and plans to relocate to Washington D.C., and whereas the meetings of various boards and commissions, neighborhood groups and the City Council will be different (like lethargic, boring, and dull) without her . . . and, whereas, two capitol cities will never be the same because of Ms. Crocker's decision (and someone should warn DC!)” and finally declaring Wednesday “Sarah Crocker Day” in Austin . . . Morrow joins Suttle . . . Crocker’s assistant Amanda Morrow has gone to work for Richard Suttle at Armbrust Brown & Davis . . . Thun’s tenure ending . . . Long-time Board of Adjustment Chair Herman Thun will continue to preside over the group's meetings for the next month. That will give the board time for discussion about selecting a new chair at its meeting in April, at which time Thun will step down as Chair but stay on as an alternate. . . City Hall art exhibit opens tonight . . . In addition to the opening of the new City Hall’s first art exhibit, from 5:30-7:30pm, several Council members plan to hold open houses tonight . . . The public will have another chance to comment on the proposed transit-oriented development ordinance at tonight’s public hearing, set for 6:30-8:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . Hospital District to meet. . . The Travis County Hospital District’s Board of Managers meets tonight at 6:30pm at the County Commissioner’s chambers at the Granger Building, 314 W. 11th St. View it on Cable Channel 17. . . . Legal community fundraiser for Knaupe . . . Last night a number of lawyers hosted a party to fill the campaign coffers of Place 3 candidate Gregg Knaupe. Among those listed as sponsors on Knaupe’s web site are: Clarke Heidrick, Shannon Ratliff, Jr., Dan Richards and Michael Whellan. Knaupe, the only attorney in the race, is running against Jennifer Kim, Mandy Dealey and Margot Clarke.

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