A $2.5 million equipment purchase has just upgraded Dallas City Cable TV channels to high definition programming.
Instead of 12 older cameras, Dallas City Hall is now wired for 49 new robotic cameras, including nine in the City Council Briefing Room, eight in the main City Council Chambers and three each in the Flag Room and City Hall Lobby to capture events there.
“From a technology stand point, we were really behind and we had access to millions of dollars that were sitting in a public education and government fund,” said Dallas Public Information Director Sana Syed. “Our communications efforts are really about making the city of Dallas more transparent to the community and allowing them to see how the system works and figure out how they can be a part of it.”
The upgrade also includes new switching equipment for two video control rooms and a new set for a city hall television studio.
The money comes from a one-percent Public Education and Government (PEG) fee all cable, FIOS and U-Verse customers pay on their bills for city cable channel equipment.
“The state gets the money, distributes it to the cities,” Syed said.
Customers at Time Warner Cable’s Dallas office Tuesday were unaware of the PEG fee and said they rarely watch Dallas City cable channels.
“Oh, that’s ridiculous,” cable customer Ryan Redmon said. “I never even knew that. It’s just hidden fees or what not.”
The Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis did a 2013 study on cable and telecommunication bills.
“In Texas, we actually have some of the highest tax burden on cable, internet, telephone services,” said Pamela Villareal, an author of the report.
Dallas cable TV customers pay a total of 14.25 percent in taxes and fees.
“It falls disproportionately on households with the lower income,” Villareal said.
While some cities program only one public access channel, Dallas has four and the city decides what viewers see.
“It’s hard enough to support one public access channel so I can’t image the City of Dallas has a necessity to provide programming for four public access channels,” Villareal said.
One of the four Dallas cable access channels is devoted to city council meetings. Another now carries meetings of Dallas city boards and commissions.
“Never before have we provided this level of access to our meetings,” Syed said. “There’s really no editorial capability there because that is just essentially a transparent look at what’s happening at our meetings.”
The city is planning to spend millions more on a studio at Dallas Fair Park which would be available to students and community groups.
One of the four Dallas cable channels will soon be used for community produced programs.