By Jill Terreri
"These are the channels that they should make as simple as possible," said Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen.
The lawmakers grilled the cable company's representative about why people who are already cable customers would be charged a dollar per month to view public access, government and educational programming, and asked the company to drop the fee.
"You're paying twice for public access," said Council President Richard A. Fontana.
Channels 19 through 22 air such things as Council and school board meetings, CitiStat meetings and Mayor Byron W. Brown's news conferences, as well as programming from independent producers.
Letters were sent to Time Warner customers on June 21, letting them know that on or about July 23, public, government and educational channels will only be able to be viewed with digital equipment. Customers who are affected are those who do not have digital television, a digital adapter or a digital set-top box. The company will provide digital adapters and remote controls for free through Sept. 23, but beginning Jan. 1, 2015, each adapter will cost 99 cents per month.
The company would provide online video tutorials and help with installation by telephone, but if a customer needs someone to help them install the adapter, standard installation rates would apply, said Time Warner representative Chris Mueller.
Council members wanted to know how many customers were affected in the city.
Mueller, who recently became Time Warner's director of government relations for the Buffalo area, said about 80 percent of cable customers in the city have digitally capable televisions, but that he doesn't know how many people would be affected.
"It's like we're hostage," Pridgen said, questioning whether the company's decision had been made already.
Pridgen asked Mueller if he could influence the company's policies, but Mueller said those decisions were made at a higher pay scale than his.
Pridgen urged him to bring his bosses next time he visited the Council.