With cable television access to local government information now more expensive, it is more important than ever that residents have options to view their government in action. An opportunity now under review presents an excellent way to meet that need.
Local government television channels have been around for years and have developed a devoted following. People who subscribed to basic cable from Bright House Networks could watch the Hernando County Commission, Brooksville Council and Spring Hill Fire Rescue District Commission meetings on Channel 19, and the Hernando School Board meetings on Channel 14. Those channels also showed meetings of other government agencies, various informational programming, and static bulletin board-type announcements about events in the community.
But a few months ago Bright House moved those government channels out of the basic cable tier and into the tier of digital channels above 600. County government was assigned 622 and the school district got 614. Bright House basic cable subscribers could no longer see those channels unless they subscribed to digital cable at a much higher price or paid $1 extra each month for a cable box that would allow them to access the government channels.
Bright House was broadly criticized for the move. People are watching their pennies, and paying more for cable just to access government channels was a distasteful option for some.
However, in other counties, home computers are replacing televisions for viewing government programming, and it is time that Hernando County embraced that technology.
In Pinellas and Citrus counties, for example, you can watch the meetings live on your computer through streaming video. And if you miss seeing the meeting live, you can watch an archived video of it. You can even link to specific items on the published agenda if you don't want to watch the whole meeting. You also can replay parts that are of particular interest to you, and you can even click a link to see the documents and other backup material that the elected officials are viewing on the dais.
It is neither difficult nor expensive to make the leap to streaming video. Estimates being reviewed now put the up-front cost at about $15,000, with an annual maintenance fee of about $10,000. Those costs likely would be shared by the County Commission and Clerk of the Court Karen Nicolai, who is responsible for maintaining the commission's records. If the school district followed suit, it would have to fund its own Web site improvements, as would the Brooksville council.
Other than those expenses, the service would be free to any resident who has access to a computer. And for those who have satellite television service, Web streaming would provide them their first chance to watch their elected representatives at work.
Providing such a convenient opportunity for residents to view the decision-making process of their public servants should be a priority always; it is a nominal investment to create a better-informed public. But it is even more timely, considering residents' harried schedules and tight budgets.
As government officials budgets are preparing — and paring — their budgets for the coming fiscal year, this is one new expenditure that is easily justified.