July 23, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury 1998 Final Report: San Mateo County Cable Network Distribution of Public Information
Background | Findings | Recommendations
Background:

San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority (SAMCAT) is a joint powers authority whose original members (Belmont, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo and San Mateo County) had a vision of establishing a cable media outlet for county and city governments that would produce and broadcast public, educational and governmental (PEG) access programming.

In October, 1993, SAMCAT entered into an agreement with San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD) and the College of San Mateo (CSM) to establish and operate TCI’s cable Channel 8 under the title San Mateo County Cable Network (SAMNET). KCSM studios, located on the campus of CSM, are currently utilized by SAMNET.

At the time of the original agreement, a model contract was prepared which required cities joining SAMCAT to contribute to the operation of SAMNET and use their production and broadcast facilities. Using that formula of fees and other revenue from production, the goal was that SAMNET would become fully self-supporting within three years.

As part of the agreement, SAMCAT provided $500,000 for updating equipment and facilities at KCSM. In addition, SAMCAT provided $100,000 annually for three years to pay for operations. A further amount of $700,000 will be available to SAMNET in 1999.

Although other cities (Brisbane, Millbrae, Daly City, Hillsborough, South San Francisco, Foster City, Atherton and Burlingame) have joined SAMCAT, they have not contributed to the operation of SAMNET using the formula established by the model contract. There was insufficient income generated from program productions at the KCSM facilities to meet SAMNET’s goal of self-sufficiency.

Other factors preventing SAMNET from becoming fully self-supporting within the three years were:

  • TCI’s buyouts of other cable systems prevented cities from negotiating new franchise fee agreements.
  • Union restrictions prevented the use of volunteers to produce programs.
  • Personnel turnover at SAMNET hindered on-going entrepreneurial efforts.
  • SAMCAT has not enforced the original contract terms when new member cities joined.

In early spring of 1998, SAMCAT decided it was necessary to investigate other possible models, prior to disbursing the final $700,000 in 1999. The Stanford Alumni Consulting Team (ACT) has been retained to review established operations around the state and recommend the best approach to make SAMNET viable and self-supporting. ACT’s report should be completed by November 1998. Possible recommendations by ACT may include that SAMNET continue in collaboration with KCSM or that an entirely different venue be established to operate SAMNET Channel 8.

Findings:

SAMCAT is strongly committed to the idea of a county-wide cable TV channel disseminating information about local government to county residents.

Some cities are not willing to support Channel 8 as it is now funded and operated.

Member cities have not recognized that Channel 8 is a valuable communication tool for their citizens. For example, County emergency services could broadcast emergency service information during a natural disaster such as an earthquake or major fire.

The goal of SAMNET becoming self-supporting in three years has not been met. They do not produce sufficient income from their production to support their operations. The County Board of Supervisors meetings are currently being taped and delayed broadcast by SAMNET at a cost of about $6,000 for a total of eight broadcasts.

Some cities, such as San Mateo, are broadcasting their City Council meetings, but use another production service as they felt producing through SAMNET was too costly. However, they do produce their Code Enforcement programs with SAMNET. Some cities, such as Foster City, have their own government channel and broadcast capability.

Individual cities are able to override SAMNET Channel 8 programs with their own programs as part of their agreement with TCI; however, SAMNET cannot preempt local broadcasts.

Some member cities might be interested in the live broadcasting of various government meetings, but SAMNET does not have the equipment (remote truck) necessary for remote live broadcasting.

SAMNET cannot compete with other organizations which use extensive volunteer staff to produce programs. Provisions in union contracts with CSM require that only students or staff operate the production facilities. The use of students is at times difficult because most do not have the time for off campus productions. SAMNET staff, depending on job descriptions, work between 25% to 75% of the time for SAMNET.

Recommendations:
Recommendation 7: The San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority should collect membership dues from member cities to allocate to San Mateo County Cable Network until their production capabilities become sufficient to ensure it is self-supporting.
Recommendation 8: The San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority should thoroughly evaluate the recommendations from the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team with the goal of ensuring the continuous operation of a county-wide cable television station, namely San Mateo County Cable Network. In deciding which Stanford Alumni Consulting Team’s recommendation to adopt, San Mateo Telecommunications Authority’s main objective should be to establish a strong, viable, self-sufficient San Mateo County Cable Network. This may require a complete change of venue.
Recommendation 9: The San Mateo County 1999 Grand Jury should monitor the adoption and implementation of the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team’s recommendations on the continuing operation of the San Mateo County Cable Network.

 

© 2014 Superior Court of San Mateo County