|From the President|
In the end, the Comcast transfers of ownership, were much to do about nothing … or were they?
As you all know, in February 2014, Comcast announced its intentions to merge with TimeWarner Cable. A month or so later, we learned that Comcast intended to “spin off” its franchise holdings in Minnesota to a company at that time called SpinCo. SpinCo went through a couple of renaming cycles, and eventually came out as GreatLand Connections. (For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to all of these actions as “transactions.”)
But, as you also know, last month, Comcast pulled the plug (I have to be careful not to say “cut the cord” …) on the transactions. Minnesota local franchise authorities (LFAs) spent a considerable amount of time, energy and money carefully reviewing Comcast’s transaction and, in some cases, the TimeWarner merger -- and how it all might impact communities served by Charter Communications.
So, now that the dust has settled, where does this leave us? Well, for the time being (and I stress “for the time being,” as consolidation in the cable/telecom industries is far from over) we still have the same companies in our communities.
However, for a lot of MACTA members served by Comcast, the transactions provided a great opportunity to get Comcast to the table to either negotiate a new franchise or extend the current one. It can be assumed if Comcast was not under the pressure to obtain the LFA’s transaction approvals in order to close the deal in Washington, most of the Comcast’s LFAs would likely still be facing a long and laborious renewal process. So, while the transactions process -- heaped on top of many LFAs already arduous renewal process -- created extra stress, in the end, it was perhaps worth it. Now, bring on CenturyLink!
Speaking of CenturyLink, the company will join Comcast and Charter to provide overviews of where their companies are headed during MACTA’s 31st Annual Conference on June 16. It will be a great opportunity to learn what new services, products, and possible expansion prospects each will be, or might be, considering. This session will be just the start of a great day of eight concurrent sessions, NATOA’s executive director’s keynote address, great exhibits and a chance to network with your peers. More information on the conference is provided in the e-Brief. I hope to see you there!
Office of Broadband Development, Border-to-Border Grant Nearly Hit Roadblock in House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee Budget
Mark Twain once said something along the lines of, “No one is safe when Congress is in session.” That was certainly the case recently as it relates to the funding of broadband initiatives in Minnesota.
Over the past several years, the State has provided funding to create the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development (OBD). Last year, legislators provided $20 million to jumpstart the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program, which is intended to expand broadband services to unserved and underserved regions in Minnesota. In the first-year, $19.4 million in grant funding was awarded.
In total, the grant funded 17 projects, bringing high-speed Internet to nearly 6,100 homes, 83 community institutions and hundreds of businesses statewide.
Following this momentous achievement, Gov. Dayton proposed increasing the grant program’s funding in 2015 to $30 million. Bills were introduced in the House and Senate, ranging from $50 million to $100 million. It seemed like broadband was finally on our State leaders’ radars!
But, this momentum nearly came to a halt when the House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee eliminated funding for both the grant program and for OBD.
MACTA, along with the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota High Tech Association, among others, quickly responded to this possible elimination of funding. Whether our actions – which included a hand-delivered letter from the MACTA Board of Directors to the Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Budget Committee members – had a direct impact is not certain. However, what is certain is the Senate committee restored funding for the OBD and recommended an appropriation of $17 million for another round of the broadband grants. The House Ways and Means committee also added $8 million for the Border-to-Border Grants, and restored the OBD in their bill.
The funding disparities between the House and Senate bills still need to be worked out, and MACTA will continue to closely monitor this situation as it moves forward.To stay updated on this issue, as well as a dozen other pieces of legislation that are being debated this session, (which relate in some manner to cable, broadband and telecom policies), you are encouraged to check out MACTA’s weekly “2015 Regular Session Bills Tracker,” posted each Friday afternoon in the “Legislative Monitoring” section of our website. Note, the “Legislative Monitoring” section is only available to Members, so you will need to log in to the “Members Only” section of our site.
MACTA Has Influence on State Legislation
If anyone wonders if MACTA actually has an influence on legislative policy, that answer is YES!
For those that are unaware, currently, a State bill (HF776/SF895) is attempting to deregulate voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service. The intent is to only affect State Chapter 237 (telecommunications).
However, MACTA learned that the bill’s initial definition of VoIP included voice, data AND video. Even though MACTA was assured the bill would not deregulate or affect in any manner State Chapter 238 (cable franchising), the proposed bill nevertheless had the potential to create a slippery slope.
Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), Chair of the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, informed those attending MACTA’s recent “Day at the Capitol” event, that the “MACTA amendment” was added to the bill to specifically address this concern.
The language, proposed by MACTA, states,“video services provided by a cable communications system, as defined in Section 238 … or cable service as defined in [US code] … or any other IP-enabled video service” would not be regulated under this chapter.
While this bill, also referred to as the AT&T –VoIP/IP Bill, may not go anywhere this year, the action to accept a MACTA amendment demonstrates the respect MACTA has garnered by our legislators. When a bill related to our concerns is being debated – the legislators are willing to listen to us!
Thanks go out to the good work being done by MACTA’s lobbyists, Sarah Psick and Joe Bagnoli, (McGrann & Shea). Because of them, MACTA is able to stay on top of what is happening on the “hill” in Saint Paul and, when necessary, offer amendments.
Please note, each Friday throughout the session, Joe and Sarah provide their weekly “Capitol Update Report” to MACTA members. The updates provide an overview of general key legislative activities during the past week. In addition, they also track those bills that have a hint of cable, telecom or broadband connected to them. Both the “Updates” and “Session Tracker” can be accessed by logging in to the Members Only section of MACTA’s website.
And finally, don’t forget that MACTA’s Annual Conference on Tuesday, June 16 (note date change) will hold its regular regulatory review session as part of the conference.
MACTA offers two great learning opportunities during the first half of this year.
First, if you have not yet registered for MACTA’s Day at the Capitol workshop on March 2, I’d encourage you to do so now! During this annual event, morning sessions provide an opportunity for our State Legislators to give up-to-date information on what the Minnesota Legislature is considering this session – especially as it may affect MACTA members. There will also be an update from the State’s Office of Broadband Development.
The afternoon then provides a great opportunity to schedule individual visits with your legislator(s). Many of our members often bring their cameras to record segments for their cable channels! MACTA will be providing key talking points and, if requested, assist you in meeting with your legislators.
To register for the conference, click here.
Then, on June 17, MACTA will hold its Annual Conference. Based on the positive response we received from holding the conference in June last year, the board has decided to go that route again. BUT, this year, we are at a new location that we think everyone will find better suites our organization’s needs.
The all-day event will be held at the Continuing Education and Conference Center on the University of Minnesota Saint Paul campus. While most of the details are still being worked out, you can be assured it will cover timely topics that affect your job on a daily basis. As a MACTA member, you will receive substantially reduced registration rates from non-members.
Speaking of membership – if you plan to attend the March 2 ‘Day at the Capitol,’ please renew your membership by Feb. 28! Memberships expire March 1 – and if you haven’t renewed – you will have to pay a non-membership rate to attend. …And, I wouldn’t want that to happen. Click here to renew your membership now.
I look forward to seeing you at our upcoming events!
In hindsight, 2014 was likely one of the busiest years for many MACTA members.
Just think, a year ago right now, a lot of us were either directly involved with franchise renewals, or preparing for one. Many of us are STILL working on them! This in itself can be daunting, but it was only the beginning of 2014.
In February, Comcast announced it was merging with Time Warner. Soon after, the news followed that Comcast would “spin” off its Twin Cities franchises to Spin Co… Who? Well, as we all know, a year later, we are still working on resolving Comcast’s transaction to Spin Co, err… I mean Midwest Cable…. No wait, make that GreatLand Connections. Of course, there are still major hurdles to jump in Washington D.C. before the Twin Cities market is home to GreatLand Connections.
For those who don’t know, MACTA submitted two separate filings to the FCC last year, outlining conditions we hope the agency will consider should it approve the Comcast/GreatLand Connections transaction. We also coordinated a financial analysis of the transaction on behalf of a dozen members.
This wasn’t the only big announcement that took place last year. Rumored for some time, CenturyLink finally announced it intended to enter the cable/video market in Minnesota. What this meant to the local franchise authorities (LFAs), and thus the public, wasn’t certain at the time. However, it should become much clearer as CenturyLink is finally... officially… approaching LFAs with proposed cable franchises. More on this as the first quarter of this year transpires!
Receiving the NATOA President Award for Chapter Excellence was just one of many accomplishments that capped off a very good year for MACTA. At its December planning retreat, the board of directors reviewed all of the organization’s 2014 highlights.
The efforts put forth by MACTA members to ensure a successful NATOA Annual Conference perhaps topped the list of reasons. To show their appreciation, the NATOA board of directors even called the MACTA board during our recent retreat – just to thank us for helping put on what they referred to as “NATOA’s most successful conference in quite a few years - in terms of both attendance and revenue.” However, the NATOA conference was only one of the many reasons, as our 2014 accomplishments can attest.
MACTA Annual Conference/Day at the Capitol
Additionally, our annual Day at the Capitol event in February was again a success – and we plan to hold it again in 2015 (even if the Capitol grounds may be a little “torn up” for construction!)
Other noteworthy accomplishments include:
The board also reviewed goals for 2015 at its planning meeting. Members can look forward to a reinvigorated PEG program, timely e-Brief articles, potential networking events and continued educational programming.
…Hmmm, I wonder if MACTA can receive its fifth NATOA State Chapter award in 2015? Only time will tell, but based on the hard work of both the board and our members, it wouldn't surprise me.
And speaking of the board, at its December meeting, the board reelected its 2014 officers to serve an additional year. They are:
Yours Truly (Mike Reardon) as President
Thank you for being part of MACTA! Every November, I make it a point to take stock for what I am grateful – in both my personal and professional life. Included on both of these lists is my association with MACTA.
I assume, “being grateful for MACTA,” is not what most of you would consider for your list … if you have one … and that’s just fine. You see for me, MACTA is like friendly “Uncle Fred,” whom you may only see once a year at a family gathering – or perhaps when you need some help on a house project, and Uncle Fred is a handyman who never says no when asked to help.
MACTA is a lot like this. We hold our annual conference, which is perhaps the only opportunity we will get to see each other during the year. We share (network) what we’ve been doing, how things are going and perhaps an activity we hope to accomplish. We leave the event a bit more informed, not only from the information the speakers presented, but also, maybe from a useful tidbit you picked up when speaking to your colleagues. Sort of like when Aunt Margie gives you the recipe for her incredibly delicious apple pie.
Hopefully for many of you, MACTA has been that “handy” resource – especially this past year with renewals, transfers of ownership, FCC rulings, and CenturyLink’s possible entrance into the cable market. Yes, it truly has been a remarkably busy year for MACTA members, and MACTA does its best to stay on top of what is happening and to serve its member’s needs.
Some of the best “value” you can receive from MACTA, but may not be taking advantage of, is the monthly MACTA Legislative Committee conference calls. A lot of useful information is exchanged during these calls, some of which you will not see printed in MACTA’s e-Brief simply because of its confidential nature. If you, or someone from your agency, are not participating in these calls, please contact me and I will add you to the list.
Speaking of lists, I would like to extend a hearty THANK YOU to those who have made MACTA the only NATOA state chapter to receive “Chapter of the Year” four times! I have had the great honor to serve not only as your MACTA President, but to work with a great Board of Directors. Their dedication is truly remarkable.
Our organization’s management association, Ewald & Associates, continues to provide the sound, daily support we need to maintain MACTA’s operation. McGrann Shea, (Joe Bagnoli and Sarah Psick) our agency’s lobbying firm, always provides great insight on what is happening on the “Hill” and guidance on how we should respond. MACTA’s affiliation with the League of Minnesota Cities, whom we work with closely on a variety of legislative topics and issues, is an important relationship that benefits both organizations. The same is true for NATOA, who provides MACTA with guidance and assistance on national issues.
Finally, but definitely not least, I am grateful for all MACTA members and your continued support to “our” organization. Without you, there would be no MACTA.
So yes, MACTA is definitely on my gratitude list. From the MACTA Board of Directors, Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family and your entire organization.
MACTA and Minnesota Receive Accolades at 2014 NATOA Conference in Saint Paul
I am very pleased to announce that – from all reports I’ve received from NATOA conference attendees and the NATOA board/staff – NATOA’s annual conference held in Saint Paul was a huge success! Since it would be impossible to acknowledge every MACTA member who helped without possibly overlooking someone, just assume if you had a hand in helping with the conference this BIG. THANK. YOU! is for you.
While the conference was a great success from a NATOA perspective, there were several accolades bestowed by the NATOA Board of Directors that definitely had a local flair.
MACTA Chapter of the Year!
This award not only reflects the dedicated work the MACTA Board of Directors and staff have provided over the past year, but also the commitment that all of our members bring to work each and every day. You ensure Minnesota has well-administered cable franchises and some of the best community television operations in the country. This is the fourth time MACTA has received this award, including being the initial recipient in 1993. Congratulations to all, and, thank you NATOA President Perez for recognizing us!
Minnesota Has Two Broadband Heroes
In part, the legislators received this honor “For courageously authoring and championing the Border to Border Broadband Fund bill that passed in the Minnesota Legislature, [2014 session] and securing $20 million dollars in funding that helps remove barriers to opportunities for much-needed broadband development across the state.”
What made this award even sweeter was the fact that FCC Chair Thomas Wheeler was present to see it being presented, and during his keynote address, Wheeler singled out the two gentlemen by noting, "It's leadership like this that we've got to export to the other 49 states." I totally agree!
Cor Wilson Receives NATOA’s Brian Wilson Memorial Award
The Brian Wilson Memorial Award for Programming Excellence is annually presented to a NATOA PEG “programmer for displaying the leadership and values that Brian practiced during his years of dedicated service” in the area of PEG programming. Brian, who was a devoted PEG programmer in San Francisco, passed away unexpectedly a little over ten years ago. NATOA has since recognized a person each year who has a long history in the development of community programming.
Cor's career in public access and cable franchise administration started in 1983 at Miami Valley Council (Ohio), where for eight years she oversaw a nine-city consortium responsible for cable franchising. In 1991, she assumed the executive director position at North Suburban Cable Commission/North Suburban Access Corporation, a 10-city consortium north of Saint Paul.
Throughout her entire career, either as executive director or MACTA and NATOA president, she has been a staunch supporter of PEG access and has constantly championed the value it brings to communities. She is truly the embodiment of what the Brian Wilson Memorial Award is all about.
September 2014 | Mike Reardon
MACTA, working with the League of Minnesota Cities and the State’s Office of Broadband Development, nominated the legislators for their recent efforts. They will receive the awards as part of the NATOA conference’s keynote luncheon, which will be given by FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. Let’s make sure we have a large Minnesota contingency at the luncheon to give them a well-deserved thunderous round of applause!
DEED Statewide Broadband Tour
Farewell to Laura Cook
June 2014 | Mike Reardon
For the past few months, I have alerted MACTA members of the pending Comcast/Time Warner merger, and the proposed divestiture of Comcast in the Twin Cities market to SpinCo/Charter. As of this writing, local franchise authorities (LFAs) have yet to receive the required “394 Transfer of Ownership” documents. These documents must be submitted by Comcast to each affected LFA. MACTA strongly advises each LFA get legal advice on how to proceed with the 394 transfer process.
MACTA has also recognized the significance of this transfer, and is taking initial steps to assist those members potentially affected.
Revised Session at Annual Conference
Joint Financial Review
It will be important for LFAs to gain a complete picture of the potential financial condition of SpinCo. This includes assessing Charter’s management agreement (which could significantly impact future capital available for Spinco system upgrades), capital funds for the SpinCo systems, and how debt held by Comcast could impact SpinCo.
As a result, MACTA is exploring a joint financial review, with two nationally recognized LFA financial consultants to determine if it is feasible for MACTA members to cooperatively conduct a financial analysis of the transfer.
This analysis would provide the necessary financial information to help LFAs make decisions regarding the transfer of their franchise agreements to SpinCo. MACTA would contract with the consultants on behalf of those MACTA members willing to participate. Those MACTA LFA members would then share in the overall costs of the financial analysis.
This will be discussed further at the annual conference, and a separate letter will go out that explains the review in greater detail. Please watch for it in both your e-mail and mail boxes.
May 2014 | Mike Reardon
Last month, I touched on the recent announcement that Comcast intends to merge with Time Warner Cable. As you all are probably keenly aware by now, as the April e-Brief was hitting your e-mailbox, Comcast announced it was “divesting” itself in some of its markets, including the Twin Cities.
The divestiture of Comcast will definitely have a large impact on the Comcast franchises in Minnesota – AND perhaps Minnesota cities with Charter as their franchise holder. Currently, it appears that Comcast will be divested to a yet-to-be-named and newly formed cable operator (currently referred to as SpinCo), which will be managed by Charter.
While we can be fairly certain the divestiture will affect any current local franchising authority (LFA) that has a franchise with Comcast, Charter LFAs may also be impacted. As such, if your community is served by either cable provider, MACTA strongly recommends you receive an opinion from your LFA attorney. They will be able to help you determine whether any of the divestiture actions trigger the transfer of ownership language in your franchise, and if so, what steps you should consider taking.
MACTA will stay in close contact with our parent organization, NATOA, and determine the best approach to weighing in on these matters as they progress. The MACTA board is also looking at ways it may help its members better understand the transfer of ownership process and provide useful information.
Thank you Joe and Sarah!
A big thank you to MACTA’s lobbyists, Sarah Psick and Joe Bagnoli, with McGran and Shea. Our dynamic duo provided weekly updates on legislation at the State Capitol that was pertinent to MACTA members. They continue to monitor any legislation that might affect our interests. For a complete list of their weekly updates, click here (you will need to log in). Sarah and Joe, you both have earned long naps!
April 2014 | Mike Reardon
The Minnesota State Legislature is scheduled to adjourn by May 19. Currently, only a few pieces of legislation pertain to MACTA member interests – and none of them are harmful.
MACTA’s lobbying firm, McGrann and Shea, provide weekly updates on the status of legislation at the State Capitol, which is pertinent to MACTA members. To stay abreast of what is happening, please log in to the “Members Only” section, and review the “Legislative Monitoring” page each Monday morning.
Please note: In the unlikely event legislative action requires your immediate attention, MACTA will issue an action alert requesting you to respond in a particular fashion.
Is There Any Action to Take Regarding the Comcast/Time Warner merger?
Having said that, MACTA is keenly aware of the bigger consequences this proposed merger may have on a national scale – including competition, customer service, broadband and Internet, programming, etc. Therefore, we are closely monitoring the merger.
MACTA will stay in touch with our parent organization, NATOA, and determine the best approach to weigh in on matters as it progresses. It should also be noted that Sen. Al Franken is opposed to the merger and has been looking for Minnesota official(s) who might be willing to speak against it. If your city/organization has an interest in speaking publicly on the merger, you may wish to have them contact Sen. Franken’s office.
March 2014 | Mike Reardon
MACTA’s annual “Day at the Capitol” was a big hit! According to a MACTA member, “I’ve been to a handful and this was the best one I’ve attended.” I’ve provided a full recap in the “Member’s Only” section of the MACTA website under Legislative Monitoring. You’ll need to sign in to either your personal or organization profiles to view. If you are having trouble, check out our recently updated “Website Usability” page here.
MACTA Files Reply Comments in FCC Wireless Facilities Siting Rulemaking
February 2014 | Mike Reardon
If you have not already registered for MACTA’s annual legislative overview and lobbying day at the State Capitol, please do so soon!
The NPRM is trying to determine how to interpret a statute – passed by Congress – on deployment of wireless broadband facilities. NATOA, along with the National League of Cities and other sister organizations, filed Comments by the Feb. 3 deadline.
MACTA is encouraging its members and/or cities they represent to file "Reply Comments” by the March 5 deadline. MACTA intends to forward a template to members that can be used to submit comments in the near future. Please stay tuned for further information and action requests.
January 2014 | Mike Reardon
Happy New Year! At its December meeting, the MACTA Board elected the following officers for 2014: Mike Reardon, President; Janine Hill, Vice President; Laura Cook, Secretary and Toby Keeler, Treasurer.I am pleased to serve as MACTA President for another year and welcome the opportunity to work with a great group of folks serving on the board.
I am also looking forward to seeing MACTA members at some of the exiting events on the lineup for 2014. Please mark your calendars for the following upcoming events:
Telecommunications & Information Society Policy Forum