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CIS Telecommunications   

This section covers three important functions of City government: broadcast and production for the City's government communications channel, administration and enforcement of the City's cable television franchises, and regulation of telecommunications providers in the public rights-of-way.


 

Government Access Channel

 

 

 

Public Access Channel
 

 

Cable Television- the City's Cable Franchise

 

 

Telecommunications Providers in the Public Rights-of-Way


Government Access Channels – In Brief

What is a government access channel?

A government access channel is one of three kinds of "Community Access Channels" first designated under the "Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984" to provide residents with local television programs and information over dedicated public, educational and government (PEG) cable channels.  PEG channels were created by Congress to ensure that large media companies could not control all the programming seen on cable television and provide an opportunity for the local community to have a voice on the cable system.

Authorized by the FCC and by local ordinances and franchise agreements, government access channels are vehicles used by cities to communicate information to their citizens.

Why have a government channel?

The principal reason to have a government channel is to provide local information from an unfiltered, local perspective. Traditionally, governments have been among the primary developers of local information, but have relied on commercial news sources to disseminate it to the public. This situation changed with the introduction of government access channels in the 1960's and 1970's.  Today, government communications channels provide a convenient and cost-efficient way for local government to reach citizens and inform them about day-to-day workings of local government.

Another reason is to provide services to city departments and agencies in the form of public service announcements, or the coverage of public meetings.  Furthermore, government access channels promote city services among constituents, and many market the accomplishments of local government to potential businesses and residents.

How does a government access channel differ from a public access channel?

Government access channels differ from public access channels in some important ways.  Unlike public access channels, government channels are granted editorial rights to choose the manner, format, and type of information to be disseminated to the public.  Government channels selectively offer city-based information to the community.  The basic idea is to attract viewers to learn more about their local government and to encourage greater citizen participation.

Who can use the channel?

Use of the government access channel by non-City departments or non-City agencies is prohibited.

Eligible users include City of Pittsburgh elected officials, City of Pittsburgh departments and agencies.  These eligible users may submit video service requests for public meetings, public service announcements, or requests for alpha-numeric text messages.

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City Channel Pittsburgh – Your Government Access Channel

The City of Pittsburgh government communications channel, known generally as City Channel Pittsburgh, produces and distribute information about City government services and activities.

The City broadcasts City Channel Pittsburgh on Comcast Channel 13.

The mission of City Channel Pittsburgh is to provide the citizens of Pittsburgh with television coverage of important and relevant information in the form of governmental meeting coverage and special City-related programming. Broadcasts on City Channel Pittsburgh originate from its facilities on the 9th floor of the City-County Building. This channel has been operating 24 hours a day since June 1982.

The production staff of City Channel Pittsburgh produces live and videotaped, gavel-to-gavel coverage of weekly City Council Legislative and Standing Committee meetings. It currently broadcasts meetings of the School District Board of Education on a tape-delayed basis.

Overview of the City Channel Pittsburgh Programming Schedule:

  • Regularly-scheduled Legislative Meetings of the Council of the City of Pittsburgh are broadcast on Tuesdays, beginning at 10:00 a.m.; regularly-scheduled Standing Committees Meetings are broadcast on Wednesdays, beginning at 10:00 a.m.
  • In addition to the aforementioned broadcasts, each session is videotaped and replayed the same day at 7:00 p.m.
  • All Legislative meetings are also replayed on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m
  • All Standing Committee meetings are also replayed Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Meetings of the School District of Pittsburgh's Board of Education are played on Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. and Fridays at 10:00 a.m. immediately following Agenda Review Committee and Legislative Session dates. For more information on the Board of Education's meeting schedule, please go to www.pghboe.net.


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Frequently Asked Questions About City Channel Pittsburgh

What are City Channel Pittsburgh’s cablecast hours?

City Channel Pittsburgh is automated and offers programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Is there a way I can obtain a videotape (VHS) copy of a program I've seen on City Channel Pittsburgh?

Yes.  If the program was gavel-to-gavel coverage of a public meeting of the Council of the City of Pittsburgh, the School District of Pittsburgh, or another program produced by City Information Systems, you may make or obtain a copy for your own use. The easiest and least expensive way is to set your own VCR to record the program as it is transmitted in City Channel Pittsburgh’s regular schedule.

If you are looking for a copy of a City Channel Pittsburgh program that is no longer in the schedule (such as a City Council meeting from two months ago), you may request a VHS videotape copy by calling City Information Systems at 412/255-2152.  There is a $20.00 tape charge for each tape requested.  All VHS tapes must be paid for in advance.  Tapes will be held at the main CIS office for pick-up. You may pick up your tapes Monday-Friday between the hours of 8:30 am and 4:30 pm. If you wish to have the tape mailed to you, there will be a $4.00 fee to cover postage and handling.

Please make a copy of the videotape request form and mail it in with your payment payable to: CITY CHANNEL PITTSBURGH Videotape Request, City Information Systems, 604 City-County Building, 414 Grant Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania  15219.

What is prohibited on City Channel Pittsburgh?

Cablecasting of the following material on the local Government Access Channel is prohibited: Any advertising materials or other information which is designed to promote the sale of any commercial product or service; any advertising message that promotes publicly declared candidates for elective public office or persons advocating any causes or endorsements; lottery information or games of chance, unauthorized copyrighted material, or any material which constitutes libel, slander, pornography, violation of Trademark or which might violate any local, state or federal laws including FCC regulations or otherwise unprotected by the Constitution of the United States.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Your Public Access Channel – Pittsburgh Community Television

What is PCTV?

PCTV is the City’s Public Access channel.  It is not part of the City of Pittsburgh, but is instead run by an independent non-profit corporation.  The programming on PCTV is limited only by the imagination of the people who create it.  PCTV provides the opportunity for City of Pittsburgh residents and City-based non-profit organizations to produce non-commercial television programming for air on Comcast Channel 21.

Major funding for PCTV is now provided by Comcast. Other funding comes from generous individual donors, corporate and foundation grants.

I do not approve of some of the programs I have seen on PCTV (Ch. 21).   How can I complain?

Our Public Access channel, PCTV, provides any citizen with the ability to express themselves in whatever manner they choose.  However, they must stay within certain specific standards of "decency", as governed by federal and state law.  As long as the producer stays within these standards, there is nothing that can be done to remove the program.

The City of Pittsburgh does not censor Public Access.  If you watch a program that you think goes beyond the legal standards, we suggest that you notify PCTV, and identify the name of the program and the date/time that the program was seen.

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Cable Television – In Brief

The City's Cable Franchise

City Information Systems is responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the City’s cable franchise. This means that, among other duties, it administers and negotiates franchise agreements, franchise renewals and transfers as necessary with incumbent providers and new entrants; ensures provision of public access television, overseeing the contract with Pittsburgh Community Television; and regulates basic rates as permissible under federal law. (Under federal law, the City is prevented from regulating cable rates except for the price of basic cable, installation and some rental charges.)

Cable television services in the City of Pittsburgh are provided by Comcast Corporation. The City of Pittsburgh signed a new franchise agreement with AT&T Cable Services, effective January 1, 2000; the City subsequently permitted transfer of that franchise to Comcast upon Comcast’s acquisition of AT&T’s cable systems in 2002. Comcast Corporation completed a substantive upgrade of the City's cable communications system in late 2003. Call Comcast at 412-875-1100 or 1-800-COMCAST for complete details about services and prices.

If you have a complaint, please telephone Comcast at (412) 771-8100.

City Information Systems seeks to inform and educate City cable subscribers regarding cable and telecommunications issues and regulations. City Information Systems also addresses and enforces franchise issues and requirements in a timely manner and regulates the franchise in a manner that protects the public interest, minimizes negative impact on public streets and infrastructure, encourages competition, and generates revenue for the City.

Does the City regulate cable rates?

Yes, but only the Basic Service Tier, in accordance with federal law.  "Basic Service" includes signals from local television stations and public educational and governmental access channels.

Does the FCC regulate cable rates?

No.  Under federal law, rates for other service tiers, pay-per-channel programming and pay-per-program services are no longer regulated. This means that a cable company can charge what it chooses for these services.

My bill shows a "franchise fee." What is this?

The City charges Comcast a franchise fee to use the public rights-of-way for private enterprise. The franchise fee is five percent of Comcast's gross revenue.  Under Federal law, cable companies are permitted to pass this fee on to cable subscribers and so it is charged on monthly cable bills.

The City deposits the revenues from the franchise fee into the General Fund, which is utilized to pay for City services, such as Police and Fire protection; these costs would otherwise be paid by taxpayer dollars.

How can I get cable information from the FCC?

Cable Service Bureau Fact Sheets are available for viewing on-line at the Federal Communications Commission web site, www.fcc.gov/mb. The Fact Sheets can also be downloaded.

What can I do to get a specific channel added to the lineup?

Customers may make requests for specific channels at any time by sending a note to Comcast.  Cable operators take these requests into consideration along with business concerns when considering the addition of new channels to the lineup.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Comcast Corporation – Your Cable Provider

How do I resolve a problem with Comcast?

Telephone Comcast customer service at 412-771-8100.  State the facts briefly, and provide any additional evidence which supports your position.  It will be helpful if you have copies of all bills, receipts, canceled checks, letters and disconnect notices – everything which supports your position. When communicating by phone, be sure to get the name of persons you talked with. Also keep copies of any letters you send.
 
Why did my bill change in January?

For the past several years, Comcast has adjusted its Pittsburgh system rates in January.

Why is my bill more (or less) than usual this month?

If you made a change in your level of service, ordered a pay-per-view event or received a credit during the month, or if your payment was not received before the new bill was printed, your bill may be more or less than usual.  Call a Comcast customer service representative at 412-771-8100 if you have a question about your bill.

Why do I need a converter box when my television set is cable ready?

Converters operate like mini-computers in the subscriber's home.  They help to ensure that only customers paying for certain services, such as Home Box Office (HBO) or the Discovery Channel, are receiving them.  In the future, they will also allow your cable company to provide additional state of the art services as they become available, without having to schedule a special installation appointment for a technician to come to your home.

Cable companies, including Comcast, utilize several different types of technology for translating the signals which come off their cable lines into signals which can be received by a television set.  TV sets are not built to accommodate all of the technical methods which can be utilized by a cable company.  Therefore, the term "cable ready" only means that the television set can receive up to a certain number of channels - it does not necessarily mean that it can translate all of the specialized electronic cable signals your particular cable provider sends down the cable into your home.

The cable converter takes the cable company's signals off the cable system lines and translates them into usable electronic signals which your television set can understand and display on the video screen and play through its audio speakers.

It should also be noted that Federal law does not allow the City to "prohibit, condition, or restrict a cable system's use of any type of subscriber equipment."  The specific language is intended to permit cable operators to scramble their signal.  A converter is necessary to "unscramble" the signal.

Why do cable operators scramble signals, anyway?

Most cable operators believe a scrambled signal is more secure, making it more difficult to illegally steal cable signals.  In addition, each converter used in the Pittsburgh system has a unique address code, allowing the customers to request changes in their level(s) of service merely by telephoning the cable company.

Does Comcast’s Pittsburgh cable system provide HDTV (High Definition Television) signals for those networks that distribute them?

Yes. HDTV on cable began in 2004 with an initial package of HDTV cable network services.  These are additional cost options, requiring specific HDTV equipment.  Not all digital television is HDTV.  Purchasing an HDTV set, alone, will not bring HDTV pictures and sound into your living room.  Comcast can provide specific details re: programming options, hardware requirements, and related prices.

Can I stop my children from watching specific cable channels?

Yes.  Your cable TV converter has a Parental Control feature that lets you lock-out and unlock channels.  A Comcast customer service representative (412-771-8100) can walk you through the steps to activate the lock-out feature, or you can watch the instructional video that frequently airs on City Channel Pittsburgh.


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Telecommunications In The Public Rights Of Way

The City's licensing process for telecommunications providers and other users of the public rights of way for communications-related purposes is managed by City Information Systems in conjunction with the departments of Public Works, Law, and City Planning. All applications are reviewed for accuracy and compliance with City and State codes by these agencies.

Licensing Process Overview

If you are interested in regulations concerning telecommunications on private property, please see the City of Pittsburgh Zoning Code.

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City Information Systems
604 City-County Building
414 Grant Street

Pittsburgh, PA  15219

Phone: (412) 255-2152
Fax:  (412) 255-2355