Cabarrus County blocking thousands in Rowan from viewing county government meetings on TV

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Cabarrus County continues to have a block on thousands of televisions in Rowan County.
The block prevents meetings of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners from being shown in a large area of southern and western Rowan. The area, roughly south of Webb Road and west of Old Concord Road to the Iredell County line, is served by the Metrolina Time Warner system based in Kannapolis.
Cabarrus County controls the government channel in that area ó Channel 22 ó and all the content on it. And for now, at least, that content doesn’t include meetings of the Rowan County commissioners.
Rowan County commissioners expressed frustration at their meeting this week that citizens outside the Salisbury area can’t view their meetings.
Meetings of the Rowan board have been aired on Channel 16, the Salisbury government channel, since December. They are also available as webcasts on the county’s Web site.
There are no Nielsen ratings available on the board’s meetings, and no knows how many people are watching. But Chairman Arnold Chamberlain, who initially had been lukewarm about televising the meetings, said he has been surprised at how many people say they watch.
And more may be interested in watching if the meetings were more widely available. But David Boling, the county’s information systems director, indicated he has run into a wall in dealing with Cabarrus.
Boling displayed a map showing county residents are served by three different Time Warner systems based in Salisbury, Kannapolis and Statesville. And there are large areas of the county that don’t have cable, where residents rely on old fashioned antennas or various satellite providers.
In the Kannapolis-based Metrolina area that serves large portions of Rowan, Michael E. Tanch, a Time Warner official, told commissioners, “We don’t control the government channel.”
He told commissioners that Time Warner is working on some type of electronic back door to televise the Rowan meetings, but it’s not a certainty.
Another option is to buy air time. Boling presented a chart showing various prices for air time, starting at around $60 an hour. Commissioners showed no interest in paying to air the meetings.
Meanwhile, the man in charge of Channel 22, the Cabarrus government channel, said the problem is not an issue of Cabarrus being unwilling to work with Rowan County. Rather, it’s all about equipment and a virtual overload of the current system.
David Baxter, general manager of Channel 22, also points out that Cabarrus County’s two-person staff produces a lot of local programming. Channel 22 airs local programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our IT department fears that our entire broadcasting system could crash any day due to the large amount of video we air,” Baxter wrote in an e-mail to Boling.
Baxter said Wednesday that Cabarrus officials are currently looking to upgrade and replace the equipment that handles the programming. Once that is done, the county should have the capacity to add the Rowan meetings.
He also cited scheduling issues, coming up with time blocks that would allow the meetings to be shown. To create time for the Rowan meetings, some Cabarrus programming would have to be moved or eliminated.
Baxter estimated it could be three to four months before the new equipment is in place and thoroughly tested.
Baxter said he hopes to have a decision from Cabarrus County commissioners on airing the Rowan meetings by April or May.
Commissioner Jon Barber volunteered to raise the topic with Cabarrus commissioners. Chamberlain said he will also bring up the issue in hopes of speeding up the process.
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell said it isn’t acceptable that a large number of Rowan citizens don’t have access to the meetings.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette