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Don't change the channels

Hillsborough County is halfway there with a deal that brings competition to thousands of cable television customers. Commissioners can complete that step today by allocating four channels to local government, education and community groups.

Verizon's entry into the market could lead to better rates and services. The dominant provider, Bright House Networks, now must compete for customers who want to bundle telephone, Internet and television services. In exchange for the right to use public easements to reach these customers, cable companies provide channels to air programming that serves a public need.

Commissioners already decided Verizon will provide four channels, the same as Bright House Networks. Today commissioners should agree to have those channels carry the same content - one station apiece for city and county governments to televise their meetings, another for educational programs and the fourth for average citizens to air a broad range of shows.

Televised city, county and School Board meetings are the only way many who work or are homebound can keep an eye on their government. Public-access stations also serve a purpose by reflecting a community's diversity. These shows are not geared toward attracting a commercial audience but toward filling a void and contributing to the public debate. Applying this model also levels the playing field between Verizon and Bright House - the very reason the commission even involves itself with cable.