Last week I found myself yelling at Kerry Hibbs, public-affairs coordinator for AT&T in Austin. It was cathartic, and pointless. A week earlier, Hibbs had emailed a letter to the editor from former San Antonio mayor Howard Peak — now executive director of state and local government affairs for AT&T — assuring public-access producers that AT&T would be fully supportive of public, education, and goverment (PEG) channels under its new testing contract with the City of San Antonio.
On Hibbs’s invitation, we called to find out more about U-Verse (a broadband-cable-phone-in-one package) and AT&T’s plans to provide public-access producers with “potential feature enhancements ... and archived content.” In addition, AT&T had just issued a press release bragging that they’re averaging 2,000 new U-Verse installations a week in San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City, and Milwaukee, and are about to expand into Los Angeles. Hibbs rejected all attempts for further interviews, stating via email:
“If the group that for whatever reason thinks AT&T doesn’t want to provide PEG channels doesn’t buy it, further rebuttal from our side isn’t likely to change their minds.”
Hibbs was referring to the Texas Media Empowerment Project, whose director, DeAnne Cuellar, authored a guest column (“The Say-Town Lowdown,” April 11-17) speculating that if public access doesn’t work with AT&T’s U-Verse technology, the City may drop the requirement to carry public access from other local providers’ contracts, including Time Warner’s and Grande’s.
I was infuriated by Hibbs and Peak: surely a former mayor and a company looking to do business with the City has an obligation to speak to the media.
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Texas Media Empowerment Project
Now that the Council has approved the testing — which like the Iraq war, has no official timeline — it’s a waiting game for public-access producers, and in the meantime they’re gearing up for a battle. Last weekend, the Texas MEP and the Esperanza Center hosted the launch of Media Activist Grassroots Network, a national group of public-access supporters and producers combatting corporate efforts to dismantle public access. More than a dozen community media producers from across the nation turned up in Say-Town for a general planning session, including preeminent public-access leader Betty Yu of the Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
That’s the politics, but on the production side, this weekend also marked the birth of Public Studio, an Olmos Park-based living-room multimedia production studio built by SalsaNet, San Antonio’s self-described “oldest internet organization.” Mastermind Pleas McNeel (who was checking his wristwatch every 10 minutes to announce the hours/minutes his baby’s been alive: meanwhile a panel discussed emerging technologies as a test run for the equipment’s large-group recording capabilities) says the studio is in many ways a mentoring exercise: San Antonio’s old guard of independent liberal video and radio producers will train the younger generation, to whom they’ll eventually hand control. McNeel says they’ll be playing loose with the plans, but would ultimately like to see the studio become a listener-funded nonprofit organization bankrolling full-time employees within two years.
— DAVE MAASS