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Testimony for Cable Ascertainment

Below is my testimony to the Amherst Select Board during the cable ascertainment hearing.

Madame Selectboard Chair, I come before you as a resident of Amherst, a cable subscriber, and a parent -- but also as the President of the Board of Amherst Media, our local public-access television station.

I moved to Amherst in '98 and I chose to live here at least in part because, unlike a number of the surrounding communities, cable service was available here. And, although internet service was not yet available, Amherst was on the list to receive it soon.

I subscribed to the cable service upon arriving and since then, I've interacted with the provider only a handful of times. Most recently, we were required by Comcast to replace our cable modem and, in order to return the old router, I visited the Comcast office in Amherst where a customer-service representative helped me promptly and efficiently.

Where he was unable to help me, however, was trying to navigate the differences between the various Xfinity packages. It's very unhelpful for the services to be bundled in complex packages and almost all of the public materials about the packages are what I might charitably term "sales brochures". They seem designed to obfuscate whether less expensive options would actually provide what you want.

Those issues speak to my experiences as a Comcast customer. But I would also like take a moment to speak as the President of Amherst Media.

Amherst Media was founded 40 years ago — one of the very first public-access television stations. Public-access was established by Congress to make communications technologies accessible to the public — so that cable television was not just outside entities reaching down into communities, but instead enabled members of the community to leverage these tools to reach their neighbors, to organize, and to take action. Although the legislation has changed several times, it still empowers communities to set up cable channels for Public, Educational, and Government access to serve local needs. Amherst has chosen to implement all three and we have many community members who take advantage of our resources.

In addition, we have an outstanding staff led by a visionary Executive Director who enable community members to leverage our resources most effectively. They help add polish and professionalism so that even amateurs can create projects that have high production values.

My older son was one of a group of high school students who created a television series called "Student News". They started after one of them wrote an article that their school newspaper refused to publish. Amherst Media provided a conduit for the free expression of their ideas. They also did a sketch comedy series and several short movies using Amherst Media equipment. For their work, they were awarded the Jean Haggerty Community Service Award.

My younger son is currently volunteering as one of the many members and interns active at Amherst Media. Many of the students who intern are studying film, journalism, or communications at one of the Five Colleges. Others simply are interested in learning video production for their own projects.

Community groups also take advantage of Amherst Media: the Rotary for their fundraising telethon; the Chamber to build video shorts about local businesses; the Youth Action Coalition to engage young people in digital story-telling projects; And our new Maker community, Makers at Amherst Media, is a town-gown community group that aims to help young people learn how they can use new technology in innovative ways — and to share their experiences. The list goes on and on…

As President, though, I didn't really "feel the love" for Amherst Media until I attended a luncheon for the League of Women Voters. Many people, especially the elderly, participate in town government primarily by watching meetings, either live or recorded, via Amherst Media.

Amherst Media has a long list of improvements that the community has requested. We would love for our programming to visible in the channel guide and available via Video on Demand. We would love to carry live HD broadcasts from more locations in town. I know that our Executive Director will speak to these issues in more detail and is eager for the completion of the next franchise agreement to enable Amherst Media to meet some of these pent-up needs.

Amherst Media is also facing a number of challenges: we are being pushed to vacate our current location and the move will require rebuilding our studios, offices, and technical infrastructure. The network that enables us to broadcast live video is failing and needs to be replaced. Again, the list goes on and on…

I joined the board and agreed to serve as President in large measure to give back for the wonderful experiences my children have had at Amherst Media. I'm proud to represent Amherst Media and look forward to working with Comcast to meet our community's needs.