Public asks for expanded and improved service from Oceanic Time Warner Cable during franchise renewal hearing
A public hearing Tuesday held by the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs drew a small but highly vocal crowd responding to Oceanic Time Warner Cable’s application to renew its franchise service for Maui County for another 20 years.
Held in the Kaunakakai Gym conference room, the hearing was the first of four such meetings DCCA is leading across Maui Nui to gain public input. As the state regulator, the DCCA is responsible for making sure OTWC uses fair business practices in providing the only cable television service for Maui County.
Apparently, DCCA administrator Catherine Awakuni has never led a public meeting on Molokai as she attempted to start before calling for a pule. Kupuna Moke Kim quickly interrupted her to question the meeting protocol and offer a Hawaiian pule.
OTWC’s representative Brian Kang opened the hearing with a prepared statement, explaining that the company’s broadband Internet service is not regulated by the state, only its cable television service. Kang discussed how Oceanic is “committed to improving its service.” He said they plan to convert all their analog channels to digital during this next franchise period. He said that high-definition services will be expanded. Local programming will continue to be supported through OC16 channel and Oiwi TV. Educational programming that supports the University of Hawaii system will also be improved.
Lastly, Kang said that OTWC will continue to work with Akaku: Maui Community Television, the public access cable network serving the people of Maui Nui. OTWC is federally mandated to support local public access television with up to 5 percent of its profits. At this time, OTWC contributes 3 percent of its profits to Akaku. For 2012, OCTW reported gross earnings of $68,586,000 in Maui County.
“Public access was at the bottom of the list and it should be at the top,” said Jay April, president and CEO of Akaku, in his testimony. Because Akaku provides broadcasting access to a wide variety of non-profit organizations across the county, it needs to be a higher priority for OTWC, said April.
Daniel Emhoff, the director of Akaku on Molokai, testified about the need to expand cable service to the whole island of Molokai. “Knowledge is power and everyone deserves knowledge,” said Emhoff. Many homes on the east end of Molokai do not receive cable service because the area lacks the population density to qualify. “Molokai is remote, and to base access on density is not fair … The DCCA should say that every home should have the right to Internet,” he added.
Moke Kim then spoke about the poor quality of service in the Kalae area. “Oceanic is responsible for providing service,” he said, but often, he added, television stations will black out or get interrupted by other power lines. “Are we a stepchild, are we so far out of the loop?” asked Kim. “There is so much money being made … it needs to go back to the people to give them better service.”
Artice Swingle, also a Kalae resident, complained as well about the quality of service. She said the Internet service is so poor that she and husband John have to go to Coffees of Hawaii or the Kuaho Business Center in Kaunakakai just to get service. Swingle also mentioned that Molokai has about 1,800 disabled people who need access. “I’m concerned with the overall network for the whole island,” she said.
April, in his testimony, shared his concern about maintaining public access television. When the Akaku channels migrate from analog to digital channels, many customers will not be able to watch it without renting a cable conversion box. Those customers who only receive standard service cable (a never advertised service that costs only $10 or $15 a month, said April) need to continue to receive the analog channels even after the Akaku channels become digital.
Howard Selnick, a retired Molokai teacher, asked about the testimony the DCCA collected over a year ago when the franchise renewal process began. A DCCA customer satisfaction survey for OCTW was distributed. Awakuni said that data has been reviewed but the application is still in its early stages. How the testimony and surveys would be weighed in the final analysis was not made clear.
Kim, Swingle and Selnick all testified that the renewal should not be granted for 20 years. A five-year renewal was suggested as a way to hold OTWC accountable for its actions. The concern is that OTWC will ignore any customer problems for 19 years and only respond in the year immediately prior to their next franchise renewal.
For those who could not attend the meeting, held at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, testimony will continue to be accepted by email or regular mail until Nov. 15. A template for written testimony is available online at Akaku.org that offers a simplified way to submit testimony. All written testimony can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, sent by regular to DCCA-CATV, P.O. Box 541, Honolulu, HI 96809, or fax 808-586-2625.